When I think of shortbread, I think of a light, slightly crispy cookie with a light vanilla flavor.
Oddly (or not), I like to have shortbread with a strong cup of hot tea, curled up under a blanket with a good book. This is classic “biscuits and tea” for me.
Shortbread is easy to make and is a great go-to quick dessert when you need something in a pinch. Because it is basically flour, butter and sugar, it’s easy to experiment and add an ingredient here or there (chocolate, or maybe a hint of orange or lemon for a citrus zing).
But did you know…
▪ Shortbread isn’t a bread but a biscuit. The first published recipe originated in Scotland in 1736 but has been attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots, who was fond of shortbread flavored with caraway seeds.
▪ It is traditionally baked in one of three shapes: a large circle (cut into wedges as soon as it is taken out of the oven), individual round biscuits, or a long rectangle that’s later cut into finger-size portions.
▪ The traditional recipe calls for one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour (by weight). Shortbread is baked at a low temperature to avoid browning and may be dusted with more granulated sugar as it cools.
▪ Shortbread was considered a luxury food, reserved for holidays and celebrations, such as weddings. It was once a Scottish tradition to break a shortbread over the head of a new bride on the entrance to her new home.
Adapted from Ina Garten. The chocolate glaze is optional.
3/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional: 6 to 7 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
In a large bowl, mix the butter and 1 cup sugar until just combined. Add vanilla. Add flour and salt and mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump the dough onto a floured surface and shape into a flat disc. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Unwrap dough and roll to 1/2-inch thick and cut into cookie shapes. Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool at room temperature.
Optional chocolate glaze: When cookies are cool, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave on high for 30-45 seconds. Stir heated chocolate until melted and smooth. Drizzle (or dip) half of each cookie with chocolate. Let cool.
Chocolate-cayenne: Decrease all-purpose flour to 3 cups and substitute cocoa for the remaining 1/2 cup. Add sugar and salt, along with 1 teaspoon espresso powder and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Proceed with the recipe, omitting sprinkle of sugar.
Orange-pistachio: Add the grated zest of 1 orange and 1/2 cup fine-chopped pistachios. Proceed with the recipe.
Butterscotch: Substitute brown sugar for the white sugar. Proceed with the recipe. After placing cookies on baking sheet, sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Omit final sprinkle of sugar.
Yield: 20 cookies.
Chocolate Shortbread with Cacao Nibs and Sea Salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, cacao nibs, crushed with a rolling pin
1 teaspoon fine or coarse grained sea salt
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Position the racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper.
Combine flour and cocoa powder in a small bowl. Combine nibs and sea salt in another small bowl.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a mixer at medium speed for 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape sides and bottom of bowl as necessary. Mix in vanilla. Add about half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Add remaining flour mixture, stopping as necessary to scrape sides and bottom of bowl. Once incorporated, mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Mix in the nibs and salt. (The dough can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 1 week or frozen up to 2 months.)
On a lightly floured board, or between two sheets of parchment paper, roll dough into a square 1/4 inch thick. Cut square into 1-by-2 1/2 inch rectangles (or any other shape) by hand or with a cookie cutter and place on the prepared pans about 1 inch apart.
Bake for 15 minutes, rotating the pans once halfway through baking. Remove pans from oven and transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.
Yield: About 3 dozen.