Grapefruit ice, brown sugar shortbread and the surprising benefits of staleness

Grapefruit Ice and Brown Sugar Shortbread

Sometime we may speak at length about Bill Neal, as his recipes are consulted frequently when Gourmandistan needs to go Southern. But for now, we will speak of staleness.

Steve loves fruit, and stubbornly tries to stay organic and somewhat local even in winter. (This does, however, require a somewhat strained definition that includes the entire southern US.) So we take in a lot of citrus, which Michelle will only eat if all traces of pith and membrane have been removed—which, as it turns out, is one of the requirements for Ruby Red Grapefruit Ice. Steve, less prissy about pith, left the sorbet assembly to Michelle, but deigned to watch over the ice cream maker as the pink brew became firmer. We let it harden a bit more in our freezer, and found the ice to be both sweet and sassy, with blobs of bitter frozen grapefruit battling honey over our tastebuds.

In Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie, Neal wrote that the ice makes a pleasantly “surprising combination” with his chocolate-glazed Brown Sugar Shortbread.  Neal said “[t]his is short’nin’ bread,” and it may indeed be the baked good referred to in the old-timey tune (humorously riffed by Elmer and Bugs here). Neal also counseled that the sweet should “age a day stored airtight before serving,” but Michelle couldn’t conceive of anyone waiting 24 hours to eat something they had baked. We gave it a go once cooled, and found it to be much like a too-cakey cookie. Michelle despaired she may have wasted quite a bit of good butter, and glumly left the wedges waiting under glass. The next night they were indeed better—the extra moisture having disappeared, leaving a shorter, tastier cake. (The effect actually lasted for another day or two, though only Steve can vouch for this, as the food passed through Michelle’s idiosyncratic inedibility window.)

Brown Sugar Shortbread

The days are still short and dreary. The holidays are over, and we’re back to grinding out a living like just about everyone else on the planet. But while we wait for spring, we find a bit of comfort in the idea that sometimes staleness can actually lead to something tasty.


  • Servings: makes 3-4 cups
  • Print

(adapted from Bill Neal’s Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie)

  • 2 large or 3-4 small red grapefruits
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. water

Section citrus as described here and place in a blender.  Squeeze the juice from the fruit into the blender as well.  You need 2 heaping cups of fruit and juice.

Add remaining ingredients.  Blend quickly in short bursts. You want to break the fruit up, but not liquify it.

Let sit for 10 minutes or so, until bubbles subside. Then freeze in an ice cream maker.


  • Servings: makes 16 wedges
  • Print

(adapted from Bill Neal’s Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie)

  • 1 c. (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 c. light brown sugar
  • 2 c. flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • Chocolate glaze (optional) (recipe below)
  • 16 whole pecans, toasted (optional)

Beat butter in bowl of electric mixer until light. Add brown sugar and cream well, until sugar is no longer grainy.  Add flour and salt a bit at a time, making sure not to overbeat. As soon as flour is incorporated (dough will be dry), put in a 9″ springform pan. Spread evenly with your fingers, then push down with something flat like the bottom of a measuring cup. Prick dough all over with a fork.

Bake in a 325° oven for 35-40 minutes, until slightly browned.

Let cool for a few minutes on a cooling rack, then remove sides of pan.  While still warm, cut the shortbread into 16 thin wedges.

When cool, drizzle chocolate glaze over, using a plastic sandwich bag with a small hole cut out of the corner. Push a pecan half into the glaze on each slice.

Allow the shortbread to age for a day in an airtight container before eating.


  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 1-1/2 TB butter
  • 1 t. strong coffee
  • 2 TB sieved confectioners’ sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a small pan.  Stir over very low heat until chocolate and butter are melted and glaze is smooth.



  1. I love the color of the grapefruit ice. So pretty!

    It’s true about staleness though. A lot of things are better left to sit. Breadcrumbs are the first thing that comes to mind!

    I also just got Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem in which he extols the virtues of stale pita in fattosh. Yum 🙂

  2. I’m with Michelle on eschewing pith and membrane. The grapefruit ice is indeed pretty! I was just about to start making some brown sugar shortbread this morning when I saw this post. The proportion of ingredients is wildly different so it will be interesting to compare the results with your recipe. Beautiful photos and killer writing here as usual. Happy New Year!

      • Mine turned out odd too — not at all like the cookie I expected, more like chewy cake. The recipe I used came from The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook. Will see how the cream scones turn out this weekend. 🙂

  3. I TOO am making brown sugar shortbread. With lemon and thyme. (Oh, I so trendy.) But I like your chocolatey version. Is like a blondie? I don’t know why my speech is so ridiculous tonight. *Muzzles self* BTW, I LOVE grapefruit sorbet. LOVE IT. Is that color really just grapefruit? IMPRESSED.

    • Like the great defense attorney that you are, you caught me. It is a Perry Mason moment. “Yes! I admit! I was a little bit short of grapefruit and added just a bit of blood orange! And, of course, a bit of Photoshop.” (And, yeah, these were a little blondie-like. They were good, but, well, frankly, a little odd. I can’t wait to hear about your herby shortbread, which I imagine is much tastier than these were!)

  4. Sorry to break the trend but I’m not making any brown sugar shortbread. Hadn’t really heard of it before now. I do like that it improves with age, though. Just about anything I bake will be around longer than a day. I either freeze half or suffer through some crispy baked goods. 🙂
    I have to try the grapefruit ice if, for no other reason, than to create something in that color. Wow!

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