triangles are my favorite shape. three points where two lines meet (alt-j . tessellate)
One of my favorite games as a kid was tangram, a Chinese puzzle consisting of 7 geometric shapes - 5 triangles in 3 different sizes, a square and a parallelogram. The objective of the puzzle is to make all kinds of different shapes - people, animals, buildings - using those same 7 pieces. While it seems fairly simple, tangram is actually quite complex. There are usually a lot of ways to create a figure that resembles the one you're working towards, but only one that actually allows you to finish it. It requires not only creativity, but also logic, spatial reasoning and patience.
My tangram set was red and magnetic and I loved it. There was just something about making all those crazy figures with only 7 simple pieces. Putting the pieces side by side and seeing the figure form, not yet knowing if this configuration would actually solve the puzzle ... it was exciting, nerve-wracking and, if I turned out to be wrong, disappointing. Even if I failed, though, I could always start again. Go through those same feelings of nervous anticipation and disappointment again, until I actually finished the puzzle and feelings of pride and happiness took over.
My life is feeling a little like a tangram puzzle these days. Things are happening. Things seem to be falling into place, but it's not yet clear if they actually are. I've put down my pieces, but someone else is still holding the rest. Whether or not the puzzle will be solved, is beyond my control. I've been looking for signs everywhere, trying to reason my way out of this insecurity, but it doesn't work. It only results in my thoughts acting like a million bouncing balls inside my skull ... a constant state of nervous anticipation. Exciting, but nerve-wracking.
I tried channeling my nervousness into these cookies. There are few cookies I love more than crisp, buttery shortbread and searching for the perfect balance of lemon zest, poppy seeds and fleur de sel kept me focused for at least a little while. So did measuring and cutting the dough into this beautiful triangular pattern. It's silly, but somehow this made me feel a little more in control of the situation. Or a little more grounded in it, at least. It's so easy to get carried away with an idea, to get caught up in the perhapses and the what ifs. Taking a step back helped. It made me focus. I'm still hoping that the pieces will all fall into place, but I know that all I can do is wait.
• Because my mind is filled with triangular shapes these days, I cut my cookies into triangles with a base of 6,5 cm and a height of 4 cm, but you could cut them whatever shape you like. You could also use a cookie cutter if that's what you prefer.
• If you cut your cookies into circles or irregular shapes, be sure to spread them out on the baking sheet when you bake them, as they will spread a bit in the oven. If you're just cutting your slab of dough into regular shapes like rectangles or triangles, though, it's okay to leave them as they are, touching each other. I actually prefer it this way, since the cookies will keep their thickness and the edges will bake up prettier. The cookies will grow back together, though, so you'll have to re-cut as soon as they come out of the oven.
• You can easily make and roll the dough a day in advance. Just be sure to wrap the dough in cling film if keeping it in the refrigerator for longer than an hour or so.
Lemon Poppy Seed Shortbread
makes ca. 30 cookies
65 gr granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon zest (from 1-2 large lemons)
150 gr unsalted butter, room temperature
215 gr all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp fleur de sel
2 scant tbsp poppy seeds
1 tsp lemon juice
1. In a small bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until fragrant.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a wooden spoon or spatula, cream butter and sugar until soft and fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and put the stand mixer in its lowest setting. Add flour, fleur de sel, poppy seeds and lemon juice and mix on low until most of the flour is incorporated. Dump mixture onto a clean surface and finish off kneading by hand, just until the flour is fully incorporated and you have a smooth, homogeneous dough.
3. Place dough onto a baking mat or piece of parchment paper and pat into a rectangle. Cover with another piece of parchment paper and roll to a thickness of about 6 mm. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 150-160˚C. Place a rack in the center of the oven.
5. Remove dough from refrigerator and use a sharp knife or cookie cutter to divide the dough into equal pieces. Depending on their shape, spread them out onto a baking sheet (see about the recipe). Use a fork or skewer to score the top of each cookie.
6. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the edges and bottom are just starting to turn golden brown. The cookies themselves should still be very pale. If the cookies have grown back together, run your knife along each cut again as soon as they come out of the oven. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies will be best when they are completely cooled.