Monday, November 30, 2009

Variations on a Shortbread Theme

(this post was originally published on November 28, 2006)

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!

Basic Shortbread

Makes 8-12

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.


Jennifer Jo said...

Thanks for re-posting this. It's full of valuable information that just may be called into service in the next few weeks.

Jan (Mixing Bowl Kids) said...

I love this post...what great suggestions and I, too, swoon for Colin Firth!

kickpleat said...

I do love a good shortbread cookie. Love the variations and another can be made with cornmeal (which I can attest to as wonderful).

Lucy said...

Ooh as a Brit I do adore shortbread (and of course Colin Firth!). Love all the variation ideas, wouldn't know which to bake first!

Tiffany said...

Aimee, just an idea for a post - what about Cranberry Scones? I think they're British... right? Anyway, we bought a big bag (from a bulk superstore) of fresh cranberries for our Thanksgiving feast and only used half for the relish. After the basic idea of cranberry pancakes, I made cranberry-orange scones with heavy cream only and they were SO MUCH BETTER than any other scone I've ever had at any coffee shop. I ate two before they had cooled completely! I used the basic recipe from Joy of Cooking, but I think I may use some fresh squeezed OJ in addition to the zest so I can taste more of the orange in the next batch. Maybe some vanilla too? I used 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries too - can't get enough of those antioxidants!

Jasie VanGesen said...

I know you said to bake them at 325 until firm and just starting to color.... could you give an approximate time-frame? 8 minutes? 10 minutes? When should I first check them?

I'm dying to make some with matcha powder!!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Every holiday season my mother-in-law would bake dozens and dozens of shortbread cookies. Sometimes they had cherries in them, or candied cherries, but mostly they were unembellished, with the butter flavor shining through. I remember them with fondness.

Barbara said...

You're absolutely right. Everyone loves shortbread! Your stars are cute and love your ideas for other flavors.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Sipping tea, scarfing shorbread, and Colin Firth? I'm in!

Dina said...

I followed your comment on Sorta Crunchy's Babes in Toyland post to see if you actually have a Christmas photo with vintage dress, apron, and pearls?! When I wrote those words it was more of a fantasy but I would love to meet the woman who actually accomplishes it! Congrats!! While here on your site I am hugely inspired to try baking/cooking some more! Your pictures are SO tempting!

Aimée said...

Hi MamaJJ- Hope so, this is valid shortbread season.

Hi Jan- Ah, Colin, my husband just doesn't get it!

Hi Janette- Oh, cornmeal, good thinking.

Hi Lucy- Well there you go, this post was for you!

Hi Tiffany- Wow, they sound amazing. Very festive, too.

Hi Jasie- It honestly depends on how thin you roll the dough, how big of a cookie cutter you use...all those things factor it. I'd start checking them after about 7 minutes.

Hi Lydia- What a cool mom :)

Hi Barbara- Why thanks!

Hi Lynn- Hurray! It's a girl's night!

Hi Dina- Welcome!! I'll be posting the photo around Christmas so stay tuned!!

CookiePie said...

Love this post -- the cookies are simple, delicious, divine!

Anonymous said...

You're a bad influence. I was sitting here sipping tea and you reminded me I had package of shortbread in the kitchen. Not quite as good as homemade, but I'm sure it has as many calories! :)

Emily said...

Gorgeous! I absolutely love shortbread cookies. These look so cute!

Winnie's Place said...

I love to cook but do not bake
much. You make this look easy.
Your blog is one of your favorite.
I hope your new house is one
your can have your gardens like
barefoot condessa. I see you like
her recipes.
Post pictures and comments on your

Homemaker, MD said...

Mmmmmm, I just nibbled on some of my own. I make it every year for all my friends with a recipe from my grandmother has from scotland. It has a different texture because someone started using rice flour in it, though that made me wonder if its really from scotland! My friends around here refer to it as "white fudge"

Katie said...

I'll be using some of these variations for a cookie swap this weekend. Thanks!

Mepbeet said...

Just wondering about using rosemary, which seems like a really cool idea. Would you chop it up and just add it in? Maybe 1/2 a cup? Any advice on proportions, etc, would be appreciated. Thank you for another great recipe.

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