Friday, September 18, 2015

Parmesan Shortbread for #bookclubweek

Okay, shameless plug: it's
coming out on October 6th.
You can preorder it at the
usual places.
by Sheila Connolly

In the real world, we’re in the thick of the apple harvest (which runs from August to November). In fictional Granford, Massachusetts, it’s December, and Meg and Seth are finally getting married. Having your main characters get married is always a tricky decision for a writer, so it’s a great subject for book club discussions.

I say “finally,” but that’s a question for book clubs: should protagonists get married? When? Is there a “too soon,” or a “too late?” Does it change the dynamic of the relationship? Or is it just a natural evolution for a couple who are good together?

These days it seem like more and more people aren’t even bothering about official ceremonies, even when the kids come along. No, nothing happening on that front with Meg and Seth, but I never say never—and there’s another question: do children belong in a story where one or both parents are busy chasing criminals around, thereby putting themselves and their children at risk? It certainly adds a level of complication, if you have young children to think about. It’s bad enough with pets, because you have to remember in the book to feed and walk them. You can’t just go off sleuthing for a day or two without making arrangements.

People say that planning a wedding is a major challenge. There’s even an entire industry built around it. No surprise, Meg and Seth are having trouble getting anything set up. First they’re too busy with their respective professions (growing apples and renovating houses), and then there’s this pesky crime to solve. The professions they can’t exactly walk away from, but the crime-solving is optional. Why should a character choose to solve a crime rather than deal with his/her own tasks? Aren’t there law-enforcement officials around somewhere? Not all officers of the law are arrogant idiots, are they?

Some brides-to-be (or their mothers) fantasize about a fancy church event with hundreds of people watching, and six or ten attendants in tacky dresses, and a five-foot-tall cake, and a bill that’s enough for a down payment on a modest house. Meg and Seth just want something simple with all their friends and family around them, and some good food (since there’s a nice restaurant in Granford, that one’s not a problem). Are they wrong? Will they look back and regret passing up the Big Do later?

The “case” they’re looking at is something that happened in Granford twenty-five years earlier. Seth was a child, and Meg wasn’t even in Granford then. Why should they get involved in solving it? Why do they think there’s any information available now that might not have been considered back then? (Remember, those were the days before CSI.)

Sometimes when a case is solved, there may be a resolution, but not always a pleasing one. Do readers want a “happy” ending? A “just” one?
Is a wedding a “happy” ending?

I’m pretty sure that book club members like to snack while they talk (as long as they aren’t leaving crumbs and greasy fingerprints in the books!). Some of you may recognize this recipe from earlier this year, as Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies. I fell in love with the recipe because it's so easy. Since then I’ve been experimenting with alternatives using different flavorings and mini-chips, and they’ve all been good. (They may come back at Christmas—chocolate cookies, with white chocolate chips or mint chips, plain cookies with toffee chips or butterscotch chips…the list goes on.)

But for Book Club Week, I thought I’d give you something savory (what? No chocolate?), with a bit of cheese. If you look online you’ll find a variety of parmesan sticks, but none with this kind of buttery dough. So here’s the cookie recipe minus the sugar, but plus parmesan, and a little red pepper for kick.

Parmesan Shortbread

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, 
   at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (not the stuff in a jar!)
A dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Warning: the batter has to chill for at least two hours before you cut out the cookies, so either allow plenty of time, or chill overnight.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium for about 3 minutes or until smooth.

Sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low, beat in the flour mixture until it just disappears into the butter mixture (do not overbeat, or the bars will be tough!).

Add the Parmesan cheese and mix just enough to combine (if you use the mixer, keep it on low).

(I love this part!) Put the dough into a one-gallon ziploc bag (that zips!). On a flat surface, roll the dough out until it reaches all the edges and corners of the bag (this was the fun part! No muss, no fuss, and you know exactly what size you’re getting). It should be about 1/4 inch thick.

Chill the dough until firm (I put it on a cookie sheet in the fridge), at least 2 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Depending on what size and shape cookies you’re making, you may not need both. They don't spread while cooking.)

Take the dough out of the fridge and cut the bag away. You may cut the nice, neat squares of dough with a knife or use cookie cutters (don’t choose really complicated ones, because the dough can be a little fragile). 

Ready to bake...
Place the cut shapes on the parchment paper. If you like, sprinkle some more grated cheese on top. Bake in the preheated oven about 18-20 minutes, turning the cookie sheets once to make sure they cook evenly. You don’t want them to get brown, so watch them carefully toward the end.

...and baked!
Cool completely—and enjoy!



  1. The cookies look delicious! Thank you for the recipe.

  2. These sound like they are meant to be eaten with a glass of red wine.

  3. What a fabulous recipe -- and GREAT book club questions!

  4. These look amazing! I agree with Libby, they would probably be great with a glass of red wine. Can't wait to try them!

  5. Yummy! I love savory crackers/biscuits/shortbread!!! Thanks for sharing! :-)

  6. I love shortbread and these savory ones really would hit the spot.

  7. Aside from book clubs, these sound like a perfect addition to fall and holiday parties. A lovely thing to nibble on with your wine or grog.

  8. Oh my gosh these look so good! And I love how easy the prep is. Clever use of a zip lock bag. Definitely in my recipe file. Thanks!

    1. This is such an easy recipe! I love it because, in addition to tasting good, it makes me laugh each time I roll out a bagful. As I said, there may be more variations coming in the future--I've got lots of cookie cutters.

  9. This is a recipe I will definitely use and share! Thank you! dblaser(at)windstream(dot)com

  10. My apologies to all for not responding promptly. I was at a conference, and though I tried to contact the outside world, the hotel's wifi left a lot to be desired. Thank you all for reading.