Jules Catering celebrates Red Sox Opening Day at Fenway
As always when exploring Jules Catering’s kitchen, we felt a powerful pull toward the bakery, where, on the eve of the Red Sox 2014 home opener, something really special was going on: Shortbread cookies baked and shaped and decorated as baseball balls and gloves were being artfully arranged and packaged by Jules’ Assistant Pastry Chef, Wilmar Aristizabal.
Cookies were everywhere, so we asked the obvious: How many?
“One-thousand-five-hundred.” Wilmar didn’t bat an eye.
A simple recipe, a massive achievement
“It’s very basic,” Wilmar continued. “For the dough, just three ingredients.”
“Ginger or citrus or even savory flavorings, like cheddar, are called for in some shortbread recipes, but for Opening Day, we go the traditional route.”
“Something else we do is use confectioners’ sugar in the dough, rather than the granulated sugar featured in some recipes” Wilmar explained. “We do this because we believe the powdered sugar yields a more delicate and crumbly texture. Then, before we bake, we sprinkle granulated sugar on top.”
“Of course, simple as the recipe is, ‘stitching’ the seams on 1,500 balls and gloves does take time.”
We could only imagine.
What quantities are involved in a recipe for so many cookies?
“Large quantities!” Wilmar reached for a calculator. “In total, this 1,500-cookie batch required more than 56 lbs of butter, 71 lbs of flour, and 15 lbs of powdered sugar. But because I prepare only 200 cookies at a time, it’s manageable. I don’t break my back.”
So if 269 Cookie Monsters were to occupy each of the 269 seats atop Fenway’s “Green Monster,” you could feed–?
“From this batch of shortbread, we could offer about 5-1/2 cookies apiece!”
Why “short” and why “bread”?
A jazz musician we knew used the term “short bread” to characterize low-paying gigs, but we wondered about the culinary meaning of the word. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the short in shortbread refers to “butter or other fat used in baking… ‘shorten’ in the sense of ‘make crumbly’…or ‘easily crumbled.'” And the bread in the name was used by early Scottish bakers who fought to classify shortbread biscuits (ie, cookies) as a “bread,” in order to avoid paying a government tax placed on biscuits.
A Scottish creation that dates back to the 12th century and popular ever since throughout the United Kingdom, shortbread is said to have been refined and popularized by Mary Queen of Scots, who, at age 44, was beheaded for treason for allegedly plotting the execution of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
Queen Mary’s favorite shortbread was cut into triangular “Petticoat Tails,” so named because the triangle wedges cut from the circle of dough were the same shape as the pieces of fabric used to make an Elizabethan petticoat, and the name for a pattern back then was ‘tally.’ Queen Mary’s preferred ‘petticote tallis‘ was flavored with caraway seeds.
Other fascinating facts about shortbread:
- Because shortbread ingredients were expensive, this treat was often reserved for special occasions, notably Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s Eve.
- The Scottish custom of eating shortbread on New Year’s Eve arose out of an ancient pagan ritual.
- In Shetland, a decorated shortbread was traditionally broken over a bride’s head before she entered her new home.
- In the UK, January 6 is National Shortbread Day.
- Southerners in the US traditionally used brown sugar when preparing the dough; in Kentucky, shortbread cut into squares or wedges and topped with strawberries and cream is known as “Derby Cake.”
Shortbread cookies are not just for Red Sox Opening Day
Jules’ Director of Business Development, Jenny Willig, popped down into the kitchen to give us a little backstory on “the themed cookies Jules prepares for summer ice-cream socials, winter holiday events, and any number of other ‘show-appreciation-for-the-guests’ -type occasions Jules caters throughout the year.”
Jules’ Traditional Shortbread Recipe (Serves 8)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature)
1. Whisk the flour and powdered sugar together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
2. Using your hands, press the dough into a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter and knead until it is smooth. Press the round of dough on top of a piece of parchment paper and, with a rolling pin, roll out until about ½-inch thick. Define a circle by cutting around the circumference of a pie or dinner plate.
3. Transfer the parchment paper with rolled-out circle of dough to a baking sheet. Crimp the edges, then poke the dough all over with a fork and sprinkle evenly with granulated sugar. Score the circle of dough into 16 wedges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 20 minutes. (Overnight also works.)
4. Adjust an oven rack to the top third of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake the shortbread until pale golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.
5. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and, while the shortbread is still warm, use a sharp knife to cut through the scored marks and separate the wedge-shaped Petticoat Tails. Let cool and serve.
World champ cookies, a championship team
Whether they win or lose, Jules loves the Red Sox.
The best Sox are the Red Sox
Three days ago at the White House, Barack Obama (a Chicagoan and a White Sox fan), wished David Ortiz and other members of the Red Sox good luck this season. “May the best Sox win,” he smiled.
“Shortnin’ Bread”–Music to munch by
Finally, because there’s very little we enjoy more than sampling shortbread while tapping our toes to great music, here’s Mississippi John Hurt playing and singing “Shortnin’ Bread.”
Interestingly, the shortnin’ bread lauded in this song may actually have been bread–ie, a quick bread made with shortening–rather than the shortbread cookies featured in this post. But that’s a topic for another time!
Green Monster Fenway Park, Bernard Gagnon: Wikimedia Commons
Mary Stuart Queen of Scots, Francois Clouet: Wikimedia Commons
Big Papi Tweets Selfie with the President: David Ortiz, Twitter
All other photos: Liz Muir