Mama’s little baby loves Shortnin’ Bread

Ah… shortbread! For someone born without a sweet tooth, short bread is the perfect biscuit. Crumbly, buttery, sweet yet salty… it’s the only biscuit for me. Although shortbread is considered an original Scottish speciality, versions of it exist in most culinary traditions with slight variations in proportions, and with or without egg. It’s quick to make, keeps well in an airtight tin, and goes with everything. Since I’m not Scottish, though, I guess I should really put up a disclaimer before I post this recipe to avoid a diplomatic incident.

********************** Disclaimer **********************

None of the recipes I post are “the original” or “the ultimate” or “the definitive” ANYTHING. It’s just the way I do them and how I like them, which doesn’t mean I do them better and that the other recipes are wrong. My Mum made Irish Stew with garlic and was told off because “Irish don’t eat garlic”. That’s just poppycock. Try telling an Irish person on holidays in the Canaries that “Irish people don’t drink sangria, they drink pints”!

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The name “shortbread” comes from the word shortening, which basically designates any fat used for cooking or baking which is solid at room temperature (you find the same word in shortcrust pastry). The use of shortening is to prevent gluten from forming, as gluten makes dough stringy and elastic, like pizza dough, whereas in this case we want the texture to be crumbly and flaky. It’s best to use cold butter and not to knead the dough too much, as this, too, would cause the dough to alter. That’s why I tend not to cut out shapes with cookie cutters in shortbread dough, because you need to gather the leftover bits, knead and roll out the dough a second and third time. I either gather the dough into a roll and cut off rounds, or I roll it out once and cut fingers or diamond shapes with a knife. What you need: 115g butter (good quality, salted) 60g sugar 170g flour 30g corn flour To make the dough:

  • Soften up the butter with a wooden spoon until it’s creamy (This can be quite strenuous, so I totally understand if you start with your butter at room temperature. We’re only human.)
  • Add in the sugar and mix well.
  • Add the flour/corn flour and quickly shape into a ball
  • Chill in the fridge for at least an hour

Like with the chocolate-chip cookies, I tend to refrigerate shortbread dough already rolled into a cling-film-covered “sausage”.

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C
  • Your biscuits should be about 1cm thick
  • Bake for about 20-25 minutes (shortbread should be cooked, but should remain pale)
  • About half-way through, I quickly open the oven and sprinkle a little sugar over the top of my biscuits to make them look pretty

I like my shortbread plain, but you can flavor it any way you like. You could grate in a little lemon or orange zest. You could add some crushed or whole caraway seeds. You could put in half a teaspoon of powdered ginger. You could roast some hazelnuts, chop them into chunks and press them into your dough before cutting out shapes. You could even cover them in chocolate, if that’s your thing. When I was a kid, we used to watch a Walt Disney short about Willy, the operatic whale who wanted to sing at the Met. One of the songs he sang was “Mama’s little babies love shorting’ bread”. I can’t help but sing it every time I bake some.

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