Classic Martha- Classic Shortbread- 45 eggs, 40 3/4 cups of sugar, 29 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 32 cups of flour used so far- 149 recipes to go!

May 16, 2010

Martha's Classic Shortbread

André's Classic Shortbread

If this post seems to ramble a bit, I apologize. My partner, Dan and his friend, Steve are downstairs viewing the Gay Final Four (aka Miss USA Pageant). They gather for these beauty brawls annually and shout strings of obscenities at our Magnavox. It’s a little hard to concentrate on writing when you hear, “Oh My GOD! She’s wearing THOSE shoes with THAT dress! Kill HER!,” shouted from downstairs.

Apparently I’m taking cookie requests now. Out of 175 cookie recipes, Classic Shortbread is the cookie most requested. Funny, it’s a really easy cookie to bake. There are only four ingredients: flour, salt, powdered sugar, and butter. These four ingredients come together to make one delicious, buttery, and not-too-sweet cookie. Wanna know how to make it? Here we go.

Gather your ingredients first. Whisk together 2 cups of flour with 1 1/4 tsps of salt. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip two sticks of unsalted butter until light and fluffy. This should take about 2-3 minutes. If the butter starts to cling to the sides of the bowl, stop the mixer and scrape the butter down. This step is crucial for really good shortbread. The butter should be whipped into a shortening-like consistency- light and fluffy. Add 3/4 cup of powdered sugar to the butter and whip together until creamy. Stp the mixer and dump the flour and salt all at once into the bowl and mix on low until well combined. Place the dough in the center of a 10 inch tart pan with the removable bottom. I didn’t have a tart pan so I used a 10 inch spring form pan and it worked really well. Place plastic wrap over the dough and push down with your fingers until the dough fills the pan in an even layer. Keep it covered in plastic and place in the fridge for 30 minutes or so. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Remove the pan from the fridge and cut into eight pie slices. This is an old pagan Scottish custom. The finished loaf of shortbread should resemble the sun. As I mentioned in my previous post, Oranges, and Butter, and Corn…Oh, My!, the sun was an object of worship among ancient Scots. In a country where the sun only shines a few days of the year, this makes sense.

Use a small wooden skewer or chopstick to punch holes in the top of the dough 1/4 inch apart. This helps the shortbread cook evenly. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour or until it reaches a nice pale golden cover. Once you remove it from the oven, cut your pie slices again. Cool in the pan for at least an hour. – ENJOY!

Folks, if you have an hour and a half to spare and want to make a treat for a friend, relative, or even for yourself, make this cookie! You will be someone’s hero. Seriously.

So, the shortbread is baked and almost everyone who requested it has received a cookie or two. I made two batches to make sure everyone’s wishes were honored.

During my college days at the Conservatory for Ultra Serious Actors in Saint Louis, Missouri, I worked every weekend taking requests as a pianist. It was considered a no-no at my school to be employed during the semester. I was suppose to focus solely on the actor’s “craft.” A hard thing to do when you are starving. So I secretly worked two gigs on Friday and Saturday nights.

My first gig was as the accompanist for the longest running show in Saint Louis. It was called the Royal Dumpe Dinner Theatre. When I joined the cast as their pianist, Master Bates (He was quite skilled with his instrument- this was the kind of humor served up at the Royal Dumpe), the show had been running for fifteen years. For fifty dollars a night I donned tights and tunic joining the other tavern characters as they prepared for the arrival of their King, Henry VIII. There was the tavern owner, Rosie Rumpe and her crew of wenches: Helen Bedd, Mona Lott, Anita Laye, and Polly Putzout. There were also the two busboys, Sir Cumference (he really got around) and Sir Cumcision (a real cut-up).

Groaning yet?

The audiences sure were. Despite the show consisting of nothing but sophomoric potty humor, the audiences really enjoyed the silliness and the cast managed to keep the show fresh by adding new material often. I have many fond memories of some of the worst wordplay you would ever want to hear. One bit always cracked me up. It was a volley between the King and his royal jester, Jack.

King- Jester! That joke was terrible.

Jack- Yes, your highness. It was.

King- In fact, Jester, it was abysmal.

Jack- Indeed sir, it needs pep.

King- Pep, you say?

Jack- Indeed, Sire. It needs “Pep to Abysmal.”

(audience groans)

We usually wrapped up the show around Ten O’Clock then I would quickly dash across the Mississippi river to East Saint Louis in Illinois, where liquor laws were far more lax. Starting at eleven in the evening I was the piano entertainment at the Koala Room in the basement of a gay bar named Faces. It was called the Koala Room because it was “Down Under.” The wordplay never ceases, huh?

I would sit behind an electric console piano and tap out show tunes until five in the morning. I made a lot of money doing this for one simple reason. Faces was a bar for men to meet other men. Mostly for sex. Rarely for anything more than that. If, by 2:00 AM they had not found who they were going home with, they would sing show tunes with me till the wee hours of the morning. They would also tip very well for this service which I gladly provided.

This particular bar was a seedy leftover from the grand gay clubs that were so popular prior to the AIDS epidemic. It was decadent, hedonistic, and not for the faint of heart. Once a department store, the converted bar featured three vast floors of entertainment. The ground level featured a large marble dance floor filled with crowds of coked-up, tweaking, X-ing, huffing, or just plain high guests pounding their feet to the bass rhythms of Vanilla Ice and Madonna. On the second level, there was a dimly lit cabaret with leather seating and a long stage/runway where men would entertain dressed in elaborate, sequined, handmade gowns, dramatically lip-synching Cher’s greatest hits of the 70s. The lower level, however, was not to be believed. The doorway to the basement was marked by a sign that read, “Men’s Locker Room. No women allowed to enter.”  It was cute when little boys would set up their clubhouse and put a sign on the door, “NO GIRLS ALLOWED.” When forty year old men do the same, it’s just creepy.

The Men’s Locker Room was one, long bar lined with wooden stools. Above the bar hung a dozen television monitors each displaying gay porn. Not mild-Cinemax-after-dark type porn. No. This was hardcore who’s-gonna-clean-up-this-mess pornography! French doors to the right led to the Koala Room, a small dark chamber featuring a few tables and a wrap-around bar ledge where gentlemen could get soused and sing their favorite Judy Garland tunes. It was here that I was to entertain the troops. Oh, did I mention there were two TV screens on either side of the piano, each one running a constant stream of blue movies. When business was slow, I’d use them as metronomes. This was my life for a little over a year.

Across from the Koala Room was a doorway with a velvet curtained entrance. A sign above this door read, “Please secure your wallet and all other personal belongings. Management is not responsible for loss of property.”  I’m sure you can imagine what was going on behind those drapes. From late evening to early morning I would play Cole Porter tunes, sandwiched between two monitors that looped such classics as Hard Ball II and Frathouse Blews, while watching men shuffle out from behind the black velvet curtain all pink and sweaty.

Every now and then I would have to utter such phrases as, “Welcome to the Koala Room, Gentlemen, here down under at Faces. Remember the more you drink the better I look and tipping is not a city in China.”

Was I disgusted? Nah.

I was making good money and as long as I didn’t have to participate in any of the drugs or other shenanigans, I was perfectly content to sip my cocktail and sing through the night.

Besides, you really haven’t lived until you’ve accompanied fifteen middle-aged men singing The Man That Got Away.

Well, from the squeals of joy coming from downstairs, it looks like Miss Michigan will be heading on to the the Miss Universe Pageant (aka the gay Superbowl) so it’s time to wrap up my “Taking Requests” story. I have more tales from the Koala Room, and promise to write more… if, of course, requested to do so.


3 Responses to “Classic Martha- Classic Shortbread- 45 eggs, 40 3/4 cups of sugar, 29 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 32 cups of flour used so far- 149 recipes to go!”

  1. Robb Says:

    What makes me think “Tales from the Koala Room” could be a blog all its own?!

  2. Alyse Says:

    You told me you were playing piano for a Baptist church choir!

  3. Russ Says:

    Oh definitely share more tales from the Koala Room! I agree with Robb — it could be a whole blog in itself.

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