There wasn't much competition for it, maybe because people are unsure about caring for cast iron. (Maybe no one wanted a cookie farm as much as I did, but really, I still can't quite believe that). Most new cast iron cookware is sold pre-seasoned, but older pieces might require some maintenance. This mold was in pretty good condition but I did follow Mark Bittman's advice and take sandpaper to a few rusty spots before reseasoning it. Bittman recommends "a fresh neutral oil like corn or grape seed" for the seasoning process and while his instructions are clear and sensible, I have in the past had better luck using shortening (yes, yucky evil shortening!) because it doesn't make the pan sticky the way that oil can. I can't remember whether I first read about this tip in the Chowhound or the eGullet forums; there is so much information on both sites. With very little effort my mold was ready to use.
I haven't made the barn yet, partly because there is a dispute in the Tiny Banquet household as to how to put it together. The silo is easy enough, but the photo on the box doesn't show what makes the sides of the barn. The shingled part is for the roof and isn't the right size to also be used as the side walls. I think you're supposed to make four of the part with the criss-cross panels, but the idea of all four sides having a door is unacceptable to me even in cookie architecture. It's ok; we really don't need a cookie barn right now.
I was going to bake a batch of the rosemary shortbread that I've been making for the past couple years, but this recipe for Earl Grey tea cookies at Apartment Therapy: The Kitchen was stuck in my mind so I decided to make a batch with tea too. I have been meaning to cook more with tea since my experience making chocolate truffles a few years ago - I infused the cream for the ganache with smoky Russian tea (Kusmi Samovar blend, which to my surprise is available at Amazon) and was startled by the warmth and elegance of the end result. I had some Lapsang Souchong — also a strong, smoky tea — and decided to make a double batch of the same recipe, using rosemary in half of the dough and the contents of one tea bag in the other half. (Faith's recipe at The Kitchen is pretty much a shortbread at heart, so I didn't stray too far from it).
The recipe I was using called for a small amount of honey, and I opted to use two different types: an Italian pine honey for the rosemary cookies, and a more neutral raw honey for the tea cookies. I didn't know at the time that Lapsang Souchong tea leaves are smoked over burning pine needles but I think I made the right choice; the tea has so much flavor that combining it with the pine honey would have been just too much.
Another decision to make when baking shortbread is which butter to use. This is an important choice; no matter which recipe you use, it will be a simple one, and the butter is where much of the flavor will come from. We are lucky in Manhattan to have such a wide assortment of butters available — I am always disappointed to see, when I visit my parents in Connecticut, that their selection is pretty much limited to Land O'Lakes or Land O'Lakes. Plugra and Lurpak are easy to come by here, and there are many others to try. There is a market not far from my apartment, for example, that stocks an Italian butter made from the cream used to make Parmigiano Reggiano. I almost always have butter from Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in my refrigerator but I am also a fan of Kate's Homemade Butter, which is made in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. My family went to Old Orchard Beach every summer when I was a kid and I have a bit of a soft spot for it for that reason, but I also think its creamy, fresh taste is just as good as the better-known European imports. It is probably literally at least a bit fresher, too, for not having had to travel so far to get here. And it has a happy baby on the package. Wearing overalls. A happy, farm-y baby on a butter box is marketing genius, and cannot be trumped by competitors. What could they do, slap a miniature pony wearing a straw hat and smoking a corncob pipe on their butter? I think not.
I baked the rosemary dough in the farm pan and the tea dough in a pie dish. Having only ever made shortbread in molds I was a bit concerned about the latter, but the dough is so rich with butter that it is not likely to stick to itself any more than it is to stick to the pan. I scored it with a sharp knife while it was cooling and again before I removed the wedges out of the dish, and it came out neatly. For the animal cookies a sharp rap of the mold on the counter while they were cooling was sufficient to loosen them.
Both cookies were exceptionally good. The rosemary ones remain a favorite; I love the way the astringent, woodsy taste of rosemary is calmed by buttery, slightly salty cookie dough. The tea cookies are amazing, with so much toasty, smoky flavor that it is thoroughly satisfying to eat just one. Fortunately shortbread keeps pretty well, and I'm sure I'll be able to work my way through them before they go bad.
Links to other shortbread recipes I want to try soon, but using semolina or rice flour to replace some or all of the all-purpose flour - I've read that makes for more delicate, tender cookies: