Everybody knows shortbread, right? Not many surprises to be had here, though quite a variety of recipes and additions, if you search through cookbooks and online. Shortbread is a recipe that you can make your own, if you like to experiment. Take a good basic shortbread recipe and add in a teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract, perhaps some lemon or orange zest, maybe some chocolate chips and dried cranberries. You can even add some cocoa powder for chocolate shortbread.
Scotland is the home to shortbread, and until today, I didn’t know that there is a “National Shortbread Day” on January 6 in that fine nation. The first shortbread was made with bits of leftover bread dough, which was placed in a low-temperature oven and baked until hard, making it easy for farm workers and shepherds to put a piece in their pocket to have later in the day. Butter eventually replaced yeast in this confection, which led to it becoming quite crumbly—and no longer suitable for placing in one’s pocket! Once upon a time shortbread was a luxury few could afford and it became a traditional treat to offer to “first footers”—the first people who crossed your threshold on New Year’s Day in Scotland—and was otherwise a treat had at Christmas and weddings.
Traditional shortbread is decorated with a thistle pattern, which represents Scotland. For those of us who aren’t so art-y, it’s also quite acceptable to prick it with a fork around the edge, or crimp the edges with your thumb. There are 3 ways to make the shortbread: as round biscuits (cookies), in a round cake pan with each piece scored before baking, aka “Petticoat Tails” as they looked like the fabric pieces of a petticoat before it was sewn together, or into “fingers”—rectangular slabs.
This week, I took a basic shortbread recipe and didn’t get fancy: I simply added in a teaspoon of vanilla. Try this recipe out and let me know if you make any additions to it in the comments below!
1-3/4 cups/195 grams flour
4 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces/1 stick/.5 cup butter
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk (I found I needed 3 tablespoons)
sugar to decorate
1. Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the sugar and rub the butter in with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the egg yolk and milk. Work into a smooth dough.
2. Transfer the dough to a cake pan 8 inches in diameter and press it out to the sides with your fingers. Crimp the edges with a fork and mark into slices. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. Heat the oven to 400°F/200°C and bake the shortbread for 5 minutes. Turn down the heat to 300°F/150°C and bake for another 30 minutes or until the shortbread begins to turn a light golden color. It should not brown!
4. Remove it from the oven and cut into slices while still warm. Don’t take it out of the pan until it is fully cooled. Sprinkle with a little sugar before serving.
Recipe taken from Great British Cooking.