Shortbreads are one of my favorite cookies.
origin, this rich, tender and crumbly straw colored biscuit (cookie) was
once only served during Christmas and New Year's Eve (Hogmanay). In
its most basic form, shortbreads are made with just four ingredients, butter,
sugar, vanilla extract, and flour.
While today they are made in various shapes and sizes, at one time the dough was
baked in a round mold and then
cut into wedges that were given the name "petticoat tails". This name
refers to the shape of the shortbread wedges which was similar to the bell-hoop
petticoats worn by court ladies in the 12th century.
The secret to making a good shortbread is to use a high quality butter and pure
vanilla extract. Butter in the States is graded according to flavor, color, texture, aroma and body and one easy way to tell the
quality of the butter is by the letter code or numerical number listed on the
butter's package. The highest grade is AA (93 score), then A (92 score),
followed by B (90 score). Buying vanilla extract can also be a challenge
as there are so many choices. The first
thing to do is to make sure that it is labeled "pure". The
best I have found, although it is quite expensive, is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar
Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract that can be found in specialty food stores and on
line. If your budget doesn't allow this expenditure or you cannot
find it, don't worry, there are quality brands to be found in your local grocery
store. Just stay away from the ones labeled "imitation" vanilla extracts
as they are made with synthetic
vanilla (from glycoside found in the sapwood of certain conifers or from coal
extracts) and leave a bitter aftertaste.
Shortbread dough is
so versatile. Once you have made the basic shortbread batter, you can add about
1/2 cup (90 grams) of chocolate chips to make chocolate chip
shortbread, or add 1 tablespoon of
instant espresso powder for a coffee favor. All it takes to have a cinnamon
flavored shortbread is to add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or
1 tablespoon of finely chopped orange or lemon zest will give you
a nice citrus flavored shortbread. The
texture of shortbread can also be changed by replacing 1/4 cup (35 grams) of the
all purpose flour with rice flour which gives the shortbread a slightly crunchy texture. Or, for
a more delicate tasting shortbread, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture, replace
1/2 cup (65 grams) of the all purpose flour with cornstarch (corn flour). Shortbreads
can also be cut into various shapes and sizes using your favorite cookie cutter.
They can also be baked in a
tart pan, or baked in a rectangular pan and then cut into shortbread "fingers". If you like, dip the ends of the baked shortbread in melted chocolate
as we have done here. Royal shortbread is the name given when one end of the
baked shortbread is dipped into melted chocolate.
Shortbreads: In a separate
bowl whisk the flour with the salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter
until smooth and creamy (about 1
minute). Add the sugar and beat until smooth (about 2 minutes). Beat in the
vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.
Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough
for at least an hour or until firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) with the rack in
the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough
into a 1/4 inch (.6 cm) thick circle. Cut into rounds or
other shapes using a lightly floured cookie
cutter. Place on the prepared baking sheets and place in the refrigerator for
about 15 minutes. (This will firm up the dough so the cookies will maintain
their shape when baked.) Bake for 8 - 10 minutes, or until cookies are very lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.
Dipped Shortbreads: Place 3 ounces (90 grams) of the finely chopped
chocolate in a heatproof bowl and place it over a saucepan of simmering water.
Once the chocolate has melted, remove it from the heat. Add the remaining
chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon until it has completely melted and is
smooth and glossy. Taking one cookie at a time, dip one end of each cookie in
the melted chocolate and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet. Once all
the cookies have been dipped in the chocolate, place the baking sheets in the
refrigerator for about 10 minutes, or until the chocolate has hardened.
Shortbread cookies with keep
in an airtight container for about a week or they can be frozen.
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