Once upon a time, I was in high school. I know–crazy! Can you believe it? My cousin June had just visited Scotland and was stopping by Spain to stay with us for a few days, and she brought with her Scottish Shortbread. It was in a beautiful tin with a tartan pattern on it. It was my first experience with shortbread: it started off with a crunch, and then melted in your mouth in all its buttery glory. I must learn how to make this stuff, I thought, and I couldn’t have been happier when Betty Crocker told me that I only needed 3 ingredients: butter, flour, and sugar.
Now this ‘traditional’ shortbread recipe with its 3 humble ingredients is the one I grew up with, so to speak. However, since my days as an innocent and bewildered youth, I’ve seen many other recipes for shortbread out there, and they include ingredients like powdered sugar and cornstarch. In order to delve into this baking mystery and conduct a thorough comparative analysis, I made a batch using this new-fangled variation of cornstarch and powdered sugar a few days after this first batch. Cookies were tested side by side. Clear consensus: the oldie is the goodie.
(makes about 32 cookies)
4 cups flour
2 cups butter, softened (4 sticks, or 1 lb.)
1 cup sugar
Optional: 1 package tiramisu mascarpone (mascarpone cheese mixed with coffee and sugar)
Do you ever remember to soften your butter? Because I don’t.
These 4 sticks softened on top of the stove, which was hot from the Buttery Beer Bread baking within the oven.
And on that note, do you ever remember to correct your white balance?
Apparently I didn’t, so get ready for a slew of bluish-greenish underexposed pictures. Just pretend I’m the Little Mermaid doing an under-the-sea baking lesson, and everything will feel much more natural.
Now: dump that butter into a large mixing bowl.
Add the sugar . . .
Oooh, it’s blue! Yes, the Color Balance Monster struck again when I wasn’t looking.
Keep thinking Little Mermaid!
Now cream the butter and sugar together.
Mix in the flour.
This won’t take long, just about a minute.
Grab the dough, plop it down on a counter, and work it with your hands until it’s well mixed. Now it’s all been easy so far, but working this dough will take the hand muscles of a champion.
See how the dough is kind of ‘cracking’? It took a lot of kneading and massaging to get it past this stage. Good luck! Take a breather if you need. It also helps to sing that song–you know the one. “What would I give if I could live out of these waters . . . what would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand . . . but up on land, I understand that they don’t reprimand their daughters . . . bright young women, sick of swimmin’, ready to staaaaaaaaand . . .”
C’mon, really belt it!
Yes, I know all the words to that song, and I would bet my buttons that some of you do too! ‘Fess up–didn’t you want to be Ariel, perched on a rock with a wave crashing behind you? No? You were more into quantum physics and memorizing the Constitution? You wanted to be an astronaut and your role model was Mother Theresa?
Well. Ehem. Okay.
But let’s not get caught up in an Ariel vs. Mother Theresa debate now–we’re here to bake!
So now! Roll the dough out with a rolling pin or smush out with your hands into about 1/2 inch thickness.
Cut out some cookie shapes.
Some of the cookies ended up waaaaay too thick:
So I simply schmooshed them down with my palm.
It’s so handy to have hands sometimes.
Keep rolling out the dough and cutting out cookies until all the dough has been used.
Then, take a brief pause to sing Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria.’ Or Sebastian’s ‘Under the Sea’ if we want to stay in keeping with our theme here. ” . . . each little crab here knows how to jam here, that’s why it’s hotter under the water . . . “
Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet.
Optional: you can prick the cookies all over with the tines of a fork if you feel like making a pretty design.
Bake the little beauties at 350 for 20 minutes, until they’re getting a little golden (but barely so!).
Immediately remove them from the sheet and place them on a cooling rack.
As you can see, I made 1 batch of larger, fork-pricked cookies, and 1 batch of smaller unpricked cookies. The larger, thicker cookies were far superior–they retained some softness to them that just blew the littler guys away.
Oops! I spotted an imperfect one. Call in the marines!
It must be consumed immediately. If you’re feeling up for absolute decadence, grab a container of tiramisu mascarpone:
Slather a cookie with the contents, and die a happy person.
At a ripe old age, I mean! Don’t go dyin’ now!
Because there are cookies to be eaten.
Cookies to be stacked.
Cookies to be gazed upon.
My absolute favorite time to eat this cookies is in the morning. Preferrably, a Saturday morning in this chair:
With a Bible and a hot cup of coffee.
When the weather outside looks like this:
I can think of no better thing to do.
More sweet treats tomorrow, folks! I’ve got to get this baking impulse outta my system, and there’s no time like the present to rain down the recipes on you. Better color balance tomorrow, I promise!
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