Jan 25, 2015

On Shortbread

This morning a malaise struck, and while I took care of myself with herbal tea and minerals, I yearned for some old, familiar comfort. When I'm terribly sick, bone broth and pillows are my usual choice of nurturing, but today's odd ache called for a spell of baking.

There is something about a warm kitchen and the scent of a sweet creation being conjured up, that soothes me. I have many happy memories of helping my mother bake, or being in my grandmother's kitchen while she whirled about.

Today I pulled out my grandmother's shortbread recipe, written in my mother's hand - well used and loved.  It's a simple recipe, usually made from memory, and often only at Christmastime.  I don't know why the family only makes it once a year. I spoke with my aunt tonight and she gasped at my making it. "All that butter" were her exact words.

Should you too decide to toss your cares about butter to the wind, here is my grandmother's simple recipe:

1 cup of butter, softened
1/2 cup of fruit sugar
2 cups of unbleached flour

English, Scottish, and Irish shortbread are similar. There are untold variations, not just from people to people, but even among family members. All involve butter, sugar, flour. You can use the exceptional Irish butter if you can find it, or true Amish butter, but good-quality, regular butter is perfect too. If your butter is unsalted, add a pinch of salt to the recipe.

We use "fruit" or "berry" sugar which is simply a finer grade of sugar than regular granulated. Regular sugar works too, or you can pulse it in a food processor a few times to make it a bit more fine. Scottish shortbread sometimes calls for brown sugar.

Cream butter with sugar and then add flour 1/2-1 cup at a time, kneading with your hands until the dough starts to crack.

Roll the dough and place in a pan or a cookie mold, or roll into balls and flatten - whatever rocks your shortbread socks.

Cookies - bake 350 degrees for approx 12 minutes
Bars - bake 350 degrees for approx 20 minutes

I am told that it's all about the hand-kneading, with shortbread.  Once I've got my butter and sugar together (I use a pastry cutter) I get in there.  In the pictures below, the top-right photo is the dough as I am adding flour. It gets a bit crumbly at first - keep kneading!

The picture on the left shows the dough "cracking." Again, it depends on which family member you ask, but kneading takes 5-10 minutes or until you are foolishly bored. I spent the time thinking of my grandmother - I'm sure that is why the cookies taste so good.

I opted for the quickie-cookie route, but you can do whatever you like when the dough is ready. It is more traditional to press the dough into a pan or roll it out, and carve it into bars.

I'm a stickler when it comes to baking time. The perfect shortbread is slightly golden on the bottom - not brown. Don't overcook your shortbread - you want it to melt in your mouth when you eat it.

Today, January 25th, also happens to be Scotsman Robert Burns' birthday. Raise a glass of whisky then, or a cup of milk, and enjoy a bit a shortbread with me. We sung his "Auld Lang Syne" just over three weeks ago, and now let's leave off with his "Grace After Dinner."

O Thou, in whom we live and move,
Who mad'st the sea and shore,
Thy goodness constantly we prove,
And grateful would adore.

And if it please thee, Pow'r above,
Still grant us with such store;
The Friend we trust; the Fair we love;
And we desire no more.


Rommy said...

It's wonderful to have that kind of a reminder of her love to work with. The cookies sound lovely.

Aidan Wachter said...

Love to you, Jen. This post makes me want shortbread so very, very much!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Oh, shortbread, how I love you! Nothing is more delicious. I hope your baking spell cured your ills!

mxtodis123 said...

Gosh, it's been a long time since I had some homemade shortbread. Sounds good.

Feel better soon.

Debra Nehring said...

Mmmm, your family recipe and mine are very similar , except for some reason my mother's/grandmother's receipe called for some cornstarch as well as the flour.
I don't bake as much as I used to, or as much as I'd like, but I'm thinking just because I don't have anyone in my house hold who eats sweets, why not bake for others who do?
Sending you many blessings!

Rue said...

I have seen cornstarch in shortbread recipes. I wonder what sort of difference it makes. Fluffier? I love the variations. I'm not sure I've met a shortbread that I didn't like.

jaz@octoberfarm said...

i just made shortbread last week. there is nothing that quite matches a good shortbread!

Magaly Guerrero said...

I read this post at 12:03 am. My Piano Man is sleeping next to me. Well, he went back to sleep. For the moment I read "bone broth" I started giggling. Loudly. He wanted to know what was going on. I told him, "Jen makes bone broth when she's sick, too." He said, "Witches." And I laughed louder.

This post has been up for a few days, so I hope you are already feeling better. ♥

Rue said...

Thanks for the smile, Mags. And yes, I'm right as rain again (and it is raining too.)

Bone broth and witches - of course!

Smooches to you both!

Jessica Cangiano said...

There is such love woven between the words of treasured family recipes like this. When strike by temporary illnesses (as opposed to my constant chronic conditions, I mean), I usually reach for some that have been handed down to me as well, such as my maternal grandfather's stroganoff, my mom's chicken stew, or my paternal grandma's rocky road fudge. All are rich, filling treats that really do have the ability to help aid in healing, which I truly hope these delicious shortbread cookies did for you, sweet dear.

Blessings & happy Wednesday wishes,
♥ Jessica