The Baker’s Passport – Scotland
Christmas is here. Or so every commercial entity would have you believe. On November 1st I saw the first Christmas tree in the lobby of a movie theater in the City. Really could we at least let the Halloween candy digest? But what it does make me think about is buttery, crisp and crumbly shortbread. To me it is a purely seasonal cookie.
My go-to is the popular export from Scotland, Walkers. While the bars and circle shaped biscuits are popular the long-standing petticoat tails has long been been a curiosity. While Mary Queen of Scots was fond of these and there’s a long history between the Scotland and France one version says the name comes from the French petit gatelles meaning little cakes; it is generally thought that the name has its origin in the shape, which is similiar to that of the bell-hoop petticoats worn by women in the nineteenth century courts.
Originating from the oatmeal bannock that was served at pagan Yule time celebrations, the round bannock was often scored in the center with a circle surrounded by wedges symbolizing the sun and its rays. This practice most likely originating from the Scottish New Year’s event called, Hogmanay. This shortbread varies in that it is often larger and a little thicker and decorated with candied citron peel and some almond comfits. In the Shetland and Orkney Islands it is found as Bride’s Bonn and has caraway seeds. Another bit of folklore and the superstitious share that shortbread was not cut into portions but rather broken into pieces by hand. Today we’re less bound by these traditions and find them in many shapes and sizes.
Needless to say many of us eat shortbread year round as it’s a perfect pairing with tea, coffee or hot cocoa. While many recipes are handed down within families the secret to many a baker’s prized recipe is simplicity. By seeking out simple, high quality ingredients and a very short ingredient list at that the cookie essentials shine. Recipes vary with an increase of the ratio of flour to powdered sugar and in some the the addition of corn starch or vanilla. The texture of shortbread in the following recipe can be altered by replacing 1/4 cup of the flour with rice flour giving them a more crunchy texture. Or, if you prefer a more delicate tasting shortbread that melts-in-your-mouth, replace 1/2 cup of the flour with cornstarch.
Once you have this recipe in your repertoire you can move on to Millionaire’s Shortbread which is like an uptown Twix Bar.
Traditional shortbread recipes don’t usually add salt but do use salted butter it enhances the overall taste.
1 cup softened butter
½ cup powdered sugar
2 cups flour
Pinch of Salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl.
Stir in flour and salt. Mix with hands until smooth.
Spray a 9-inch fluted tart pan or a 9" square pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Press dough into pan. Using the tines of a fork, score dough from the edge of the circle in the center towards the edge of the pan into 12 equal wedges or squares (depending on type of pan you are using.
Bake the shortbread in the middle of the oven 25 minutes or until slightly brown around edges.
Remove from oven. Immediately cut into squares/wedges with a sharp knife
Cool on tea towel and store between waxed paper in a cookie jar.
- For a brown sugar version substitute the powdered sugar in equal portion for brown sugar
- For chocolate shortbread add 1/3 cup cocoa to the flour step.
- Along with 1 tsp vanilla extract add one of the following options:
- Grated zest of citrus: either 2 limes or 2 lemons or 2 oranges
- Mix in- 1/2 cup mini chocolate