In my last column, I mentioned that I often get asked silly questions about my job. This week I'd like to explore another question people like to ask professional cooks: "What's your favorite thing to make or your specialty?"
Seems like a perfectly valid question, if you don't know any real cooks. If all you ever do is put together a simple bundt cake or Sunday dinner at home once in a while, I'm sure you have a dish you consider your favorite or best. But to someone who actually makes their living in a kitchen, it's as ridiculous a question as asking a professional baseball player what their favorite pitch is. (At least I figure it is—I don't know anything about sports. Baseball is the one with sticks, right? KIDDING).
The way professionals see it, we are constantly learning and evolving. If I were to answer that question early on in my career, back when I was in school or at my first job, I would absolutely say cupcakes. Or jam. Or jam-filled cupcakes. A year later? Pie or panna cotta. A year after that? Flan. There are always technically correct answers to the question of favorite things to produce or specialties, but that answer changes frequently, especially now in a position where I am constantly creating new product.
The best and most accurate answer I can give for the question is: "Things no one is else is making."
But in the microcosm of this month, I actually do have a favorite recipe, and while cookies aren't exactly my "specialty" (rather something I am forcing myself to work with in order to challenge myself and because the profit margins on a nicely constructed cookie plate are huge), this is certainly a unique, one-of-a-kind Anna recipe, featuring sunny citrus, floral honey, toasty coriander, and lots and lots of wonderful butter.
Shortbread is among the simplest of cookie doughs and, as with anything simple, carelessness will show. The better the butter, the softer and more flavorful your cookies will be (at work I'm lucky enough to have Plugra, a high fat European butter, as my default option). Don't skimp on the citrus zest, which bridges the flavors of honey and coriander beautifully, and don't buy pre-ground coriander. Buy whole coriander seed, toast it in a dry pan or the oven until fragrant, then grind it into a powder with a spice grinder or high-powered blender. And definitely don't skip the roll in coarse, golden sugar in the raw, which adds a beautiful sparkle and crunch to the finished cookies.
About the Author: Anna Markow is a pastry chef obsessed with doing things that no one else does and giving unusual ingredients their time to shine. You can follow her sometimes-pastry-related thoughts on Twitter @VerySmallAnna.