If I were to make just one cookie for Christmas? It's shortbread. In our family, Christmas isn't Christmas without shortbread, spare, simple, ethereal English shortbread. Here I've collected all the family tricks and tips all in one place.
Merry Christmas, All. May your season be remembered for kindness and generosity and if you're lucky, a piece of shortbread or two at the end of the day ...
"Stop! You're overthinking it!" That's what the Family Shortbread Queen aka my sister blurted out when teaching me how to make shortbread a few years back. Adanna's shortbread is ethereal. Buttery and barely sweet. Ever so tender but with that perfect "snap" when you bite into it.
Our family shortbread recipe comes from our grandmother, a Canadian married to an Englishman. Like all shortbread, it's spare and simple, just a few good ingredients.
Since that first lesson, I've made many-a-batch of shortbread, collecting the details on what works and doesn't, what's worth investing in and what can be put aside.
It turns out, for something as simple as shortbread, detail matters.
Oh! And word to the wise? Santa l-o-v-e-s shortbread!
Time to table: 2 hours
Makes about 4-1/2 dozen small cookies or fewer larger cookies
AN HOUR BEFORE MIXING
- 1 cup (2 sticks, 225g) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, optional
- 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 2-1/2 cups (315g) all-purpose flour
- Raw sugar (my favorite) or colored sugar, for coating Slice 'n' Bake Shortbread Rounds
- Powdered sugar, for rolling
AN HOUR BEFORE MIXING Let the butter and vanilla rest in your mixing bowl for one hour. Line baking sheets with parchment. Measure the sugar and salt into one small bowl, the flour into another.
MIX THE SHORTBREAD DOUGH With a hand mixer, mix the butter and vanilla together on low speed until thoroughly combined and the butter is slightly soft; stop at least once and probably twice to use a knife to scrape the butter off the mixing blades and a spatula to scrape the mixing bowl, especially the bottom of the bowl.
Slowly pour in the sugar in a stream. At low to medium speed, combine butter and sugar until completely combined; stop to scrape at least once, maybe two or three times.
At low speed, mix in about a third of the flour, just until combined; scrape the beaters and the bowl. Add the remaining flour. At low speed, combine the mixture, it will start off floury and then sandy, keep mixing until the dough comes together.
CHILL FOR AN HOUR Separate dough into two roughly equal pieces. For Slice 'n' Bake Shortbread Rounds, form each piece into a round log; for Shortbread Fingers (my favoriate), form each piece into a round log, then flatten the logs slightly; for Shortbread Cutout Shapes, form each pieces into a flat disk.
Wrap the logs or disks in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 - 60 minutes, less time the thinner the pieces, more time the thicker the pieces. (If the dough refrigerates longer than this, it'll need to be left out at room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes to reach a good working temperature. The dough should be firm but pliable, with firm edges and easily lifted from underneath without breaking apart or bending.
ROLL & BAKE Set oven to 300F/150C with the rack in the center.
Whatever shape you choose, please know that shortbread "relaxes" more than "spreads" during baking but still, don't crowd the cookies on the baking sheet. The baking time will vary based on how thick the cookies are. Until you get to know your own oven with how thick you roll shortbread, start checking at 10 minutes; quite thick cookies can take 25 - 35 minutes. When done, the cookies should be golden at the edges and on the bottoms but quite white in the center even though baked all the way through. Once baked, the cookies should "snap" when bitten into but shouldn't be hard.
For Slice 'n' Bake Shortbread Rounds, roll the log in raw sugar or colored sugar, gently pressing the log into the sugar to completely coat. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into rounds and transfer onto a baking sheet.
For Shortbread Fingers, with your hands, lightly brush the dough log with powdered sugar. With a rolling pin, roll the flattened log into a much longer and slightly wider piece of dough; use the flat edge of a long knife to neaten the long edges; make sure the dough is of even thickness throughout. If you like, once the dough is the right thickness, use a fluted-edge cutting device to give a nice shape to the edges, I love this wavy crinkle cutter. First, cut off a tiny tiny bit of dough on all four sides, then cut cross-wise into "fingers". Use an offset spatula to lift each finger onto a baking sheet.
For Shortbread Cutout Shapes, with your hands, dust the first dough disk with powdered sugar. Roll out the disk to an even thickness, use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Use an offset spatula to lift each shape onto a baking sheet. Set aside the scraps. Repeat with the second dough disk. Combine the scraps from both disks and roll again.
ALANNA's TIPS (because yes, I'm prone to over-thinking ... )
SALTED BUTTER Yes, salted butter. #AllTheTime but especially for old-fashioned recipes. Besides, did you know that unsalted butter is kind of an American thing? The Scandinavians, for example, have no tradition of unsalted butter. See? I'm not such an outlier, using salted butter! And yes I usually still add just a little more salt.
GOOD BUTTER Good butter matters in shortbread. It should be purchased recently (days matter ...) and kept cold in the fridge until ready to bake. I have zero luck with less expensive butter from Sam's Club, Costco and Trader Joe's. I'm a Land O Lakes butter baker going way-way back. It pays to shop around for price, this year I'm making regular trips to Walmart for two-pound packages, $3.25 a pound. Other years, it's been Target or my local grocery with special deals.
ROOM TEMPERATURE BUTTER Avoid any temptation to rush getting the butter to room temperature. It just doesn't pay, frustration-wise, because you'll find yourself cleaning off the beaters and scraping the bowl so many more times. That said, it's equally important to not let it sit out much more than an hour too, temperature is important to shortbread structure, not just taste. FYI I do find that it takes slightly less time to bring butter to room temperature when it's been stored in the door of the fridge instead of inside.
FLOUR, SUGAR & POWDERED SUGAR Make sure your flour and powdered sugar are fresh, purchased within a couple of weeks of baking. For sugar and powdered sugar, use cane sugar, not the less-expensive non-cane sugars.
HAND MIXER Both my sister and I get better results mixing shortbread using a hand mixer, you just have more control and it's plain easier to scrape the beaters and the bowl. That said, I do use my hand mixer in the Kitchen Aid metal bowl, works like a charm, especially with a rubber base beneath the bowl so it doesn't slip around. Just recently, I've started using the "whipping cream" beaters, the ones with narrower blades; they're easier to scrape off the butter/dough as it mixes!
MIXER SPEED Keep the mixer on low or medium speed, not high. For shortbread, you want to gently but thoroughly combine the few ingredient without adding air.
POWDERED SUGAR FOR ROLLING Why powdered sugar for rolling the shortbread? This is a trick I've used forever with my Cut-Out Spice Cookies and No-Chill Cutout Sugar Cookies. The powdered sugar "melts" into the cookies, flour won't do that.
OTHER PEOPLE'S SHORTBREAD TRICKS I've tried all kinds of shortbread variations, testing one thing and another. Every time, I come back to our Family Shortbread for sheer simplicity and sheer perfection. Here are some things I've tried.
COLD BUTTER I've tried starting with cold butter, knowing butter provides structure not just taste. The result? Pure frustration, scraping and rescraping (and rescraping) the beaters and bowl.
MORE SUGAR I've tried adding more sugar, one popular recipe uses 2/3 cup sugar. To my taste, more sugar isn't necessary and makes for a slightly too-sweet biscuit.
MAPLE SUGAR Maple sugar makes absolutely wonderful shortbread, I learned that this year from Sarah Osborn, the pastry chef at Niche Restaurant here in St. Louis, that's the James Beard award-winning chef Gerard Craft's first restaurant, see Niche Restaurant Shortbread Cookies. But maple sugar is sooo expensive, $25 a pound or more. If it fits your budget, do try maple sugar!
BROWN SUGAR I've tried substituting brown sugar for white sugar. This is a good substitute, the shortbread turns out a little more golden than white, the taste is a nice change. Brown sugar is a poor man's maple sugar!
RICE FLOUR I've tried using some rice flour, 1/4 cup rice flour with 2 cups all-purpose. Rice flour makes nice shortbread, but not noticeably nicer.
LESS FLOUR I've tried using less flour, specifically 2-1/4 cups and 2-3/8 cups instead of 2-1/2 cups. The cookies work out fine with less flour but I'm sticking with my family's ingredient list, the full 2-1/2 cups flour. If you have trouble with shortbread dough turning out floury and crumbly, I'd recommend using less flour, it might help.
Whole Recipe (for easy math for different cookie yields): 3222 Calories; 173g Tot Fat; 117g Sat Fat; 488mg Cholesterol; 2475mg Sodium; 356g Carb; 9g Fiber; 117g Sugar; 34g Protein.
Per Cookie, assumes 54 small cookies: 59 Calories; 3g Tot Fat; 2g Sat Fat; 9mg Cholesterol; 45mg Sodium; 7g Carb; 0g Fiber; 2g Sugar; 1g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 1.5 & PointsPlus 2 (FYI, 2 cookies = 3 points for both)
Family Shortbread, Three Shapes
left ~ Shortbread Cutout Shapes, stars and heart shapes were Nana's favorites!
upper right ~ Slice 'n' Bake Shortbread Rounds rolled in raw sugar, a new shape this year!
lower right ~ Shortbread Fingers, my favorite!
Last-Minute Christmas Baking
© Copyright 2015 Kitchen Parade