Monday, November 30, 2009
Who doesn’t love Shortbread?
Perhaps it’s because I am half British (my father was born in England and moved here as a lad of four) and I never feel more in tune with those roots as I do when I am sipping tea and nibbling shortbread. Throw in a good Colin Firth movie and, blimey, that’s the cat’s pajamas! Of course ‘nibbling’ might be a tad of a stretch, it’s so rich and delicious, scarfing might be more appropriate.
Now what some people don’t know is that shortbread is Scottish, not British. Shortbread is to Scotland what biscotti is to Italy and madeleines are to France. This simple combination of only four ingredients - flour, sugar, butter and salt - lays claim to be the best cookie out there and I tend to agree. If you are bored with the classic recipe, the good news for you is that there are many variations that you can make on the standard.
Trendy foodstuffs such as green tea and espresso have made their way into these delightful sweets, updating them for your 2009 Christmas! You can also get creative on your own. Chop up your favorite nuts or dried fruit and add that to the dough. Dust with icing sugar, dip in chocolate, or glaze with icing -- just not all three; you don’t want to mask the shortbread's humble and elegant appeal.
Here is a recipe for basic shortbread and following it, some flavoring variations. Remember that baking time for each variety will vary depending on the size and shape of the cookies. I am always looking for an excuse to play with my cookie cutters, so I usually roll my shortbread dough and make shaped cookies, but the dough can also be pressed into a pan or rolled into balls and baked. There are almost as many variations in baking shortbread than there are flavorings.
Get creative and have fun!
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
Sift together the flour and the salt and set aside. In a bowl or stand mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat another 2 minutes until very light and fluffy. Add flavoring if using. Slowly add flour and mix on low until just combined. Gather into a ball with your hands, wrap in plastic and chill until firm.
Roll dough onto a lightly floured surface until ¼ inch thick and cut into desired shapes.
Place on baking sheet and chill until firm. At this point dough can be well wrapped and frozen for a few months.
Preheat oven to 325F.
Bake until firm and just starting to color. Cook on a wire rack.
*Keeps well in an airtight container for up to three weeks.*
Dried Fruit: Cherries, cranberries, and other dried fruits add wonderful textures and flavor to shortbread.
Almond: Add ½ cup powdered almonds and 1 tsp almond extract to the creamed butter.
Lemon: Add 2 teaspoons lemon zest and a few drops of lemon extract if desired. Experiment with all types of citrus and don't forget about poppy seeds!
Ginger: Substitute brown sugar for the icing sugar in basic recipe. To the flour mixture add 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and a pinch of cloves.
Green Tea: Sift 2 tablespoons of finely ground green tea with the flour and salt and proceed as usual.
Chocolate: Add ½ cup cocoa to the flour and salt and proceed with recipe. dip cooked cookies in dark chocolate for an irresistible double-chocolate cookie.
Vanilla: Add 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or the scraped seeds of one vanilla bean to the creamed butter
Espresso: Dissolve 2 tablespoons espresso powder in 1 teaspoon hot water. Add to creamed butter and sugar mixture before adding flour.
Nuts: Add lightly toasted and chopped hazelnuts, pecans, or (insert your favorite nut variety here) to give a lovely texture and flavor to you shortbread.
Herbs: Rosemary is spectacular paired with lemon, as is lavender, so don't rule out the spice & herb cabinet when creating your perfect shortbread.