April 21, 2009


I never really liked shortbread, or at least I didn't think I did. I have faint childhood memories of tins and tins full of tongue-numbingly similar cookies in different shapes--though I do maintain that the ones with big sugar crystals tasted better than the plain ones. (Those might have been butter cookies for all I know--apparently, the main difference is the addition of an egg.) I do specifically remember that my dad used the old tins to store his shoe polish in the garage, but that's pretty much the extent of my interaction with shortbread.

Until a few months ago, that is. I must have been really hungry, because I ended up eating a small package of shortbread cookies that happened to be lying around one day. Before tasting those Walker's shortbread cookies that day, I'd always thought, "Shortbread--what's the point? There's no chocolate, no peanut butter, no nuts. This is one bland, boring cookie and I don't have time for cookies like that."

Well, I was wrong. The shortbread was amazing. It had such a satisfying texture and a rich, buttery sweet, but not too sweet flavor. I was really converted when I friend of mine made a batch of shortbread cookies from scratch. Fresh baked shortbread, holy cow! I immediately added it to my list of recipes I needed to try.

The really fascinating thing about shortbread is that it only uses four ingredients: flour, sugar, salt and, most importantly, butter. You can really taste everything you put in these cookies, so use the very best quality you can find and afford. Because it's so straight forward, they are easy to make and the returns on your investment will be multi fold.

This is baking at its purist. (Thank you once again, Dear Martha.)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  1. Sift together flour and salt into a bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the butter with an electric mixer on medium (use the paddle attachment if you are cool enough to have one) until fluffy--3 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until pale and fluffy--2 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture all at once and mix until just combined. (It will have a crumbly texture.)
  3. Using plastic wrap, press the dough into a buttered 10 inch tart pan (I only had 9 inch glass pie pan and that worked just fine...) With plastic on dough, refrigerate 20 minutes.
  4. With a few minutes to spare, adjust oven rack to the upper third. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
  5. Remove plastic wrap and cut out a round from the center using a 2 1/4-inch cookie cutter (I just used the rim of a glass). [Martha says to discard it, but I put in on a separate pan and cooked it too! Why waste cookies?] Put cutter back in center (or not, like me). Cut dough into 8 wedges using a paring knife. Prick the dough all over with a wooden skewer at 1/4-inch intervals.
  6. Bake until golden brown and firm in the center, about 1 hour. Transfer pan to a wire rack. Re-cut shortbread into wedges. Let cool completely in the pan.
There are also many variations on shortbread--t's a nice base for other flavors. My next batch is going to be lime, white chocolate and almond shortbread. Oh man, I can't wait.

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