Pastry chef Sasha Piligian of Sqirl restaurant in Silver Lake adds cardamom and mahleb to her take on traditional Armenian shortbread, which is usually made with just butter, flour and sugar. Mahleb are the kernels found inside the pits of sour cherries; they have an almond scent with a faintly bitter taste and a vanilla aroma. It’s best to buy whole kernels and grind them yourself to capture their delicate flavor, but you can buy powdered versions as well. Even without mahleb, this shortbread is unique in the way it brings together clarified butter and powdered sugar to make a rich and tender cookie.
Press on the cardamom pods until they crack open slightly. Put in a small saucepan and add the butter. Set over medium-low heat and melt the butter. Continue cooking until the dairy solids foam and rise to the top then sink to the bottom. Skim the foam off the top of the melted butter and discard. Remove the pan from the heat. Slowly pour the butter into a liquid measuring cup and refrigerate until the fat is solid.
Using a small spoon, pierce through the solid butter at the edge and down to the bottom of the cup and remove a small scoop of the butter. Pour out any liquid dairy from the bottom of the cup. You should be left with a scant cup of solid clarified butter. Pick out the cardamom pods and discard.
Combine the clarified butter and one cup powdered sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, until fluffy and pale, about five minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the flour, mahleb and salt in a medium bowl. Add half the mixture to the whipped butter and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Scrape the bowl, add the remaining dry ingredients and beat on low until the mixture begins to form large clumps.
Scrape half of the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Form into a log the diameter of a quarter and wrap tightly. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Unwrap one log and cut into eighth-inch-thick slices. Place the rounds half an inch apart on one prepared sheet. Repeat with the remaining log and sheet.
Bake one sheet at a time until the edges are just set and the tops just dry, seven to nine minutes. Do not let the cookies take on any color. Cool completely on the sheets on wire racks.
Place half of the remaining powdered sugar in a large, shallow bowl. Carefully slide one sheet of cookies into the bowl and carefully toss and turn with your fingers until evenly coated. Transfer to an airtight container. Repeat with the remaining powdered sugar and cookies.
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