There’s No Shortage of Butter in this Shortbread Recipe
My middle son, Clooney loves shortbread. I guess he gets that from my mother-in-law, who buys these huge tins of Walker’s Shortbread from Costco. No cup of tea or family gathering at her house is complete without a plate of these tasty cookies. Kind of interesting — shortbread is actually a biscuit which originated in Scotland during medieval times, though it has since become popular in the U.K. and Ireland. It’s got three main ingredients: sugar, flour and butter. I found this recipe, which also adds a little salt, on the boards and thought my son and mother-in-law might like to try it. It didn’t seem difficult to make, but once I started, the process didn’t feel right at all. The photo on Pinterest looks like this:
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter (pref. European-style), chilled
Preheat oven to 350F.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt. Pulse a few times to blend.
Cut butter into large chunks and add to food processor. Whiz for about 1 minute, until dough has a very sandy and starts to clump together. Pour into a 9-inch square pan and spread into an even layer. Use a flat-bottomed glass to press down the dough firmly, creating as smooth a surface as possible.
Score dough lightly with a knife, marking 4 rows by 8 rows of shortbread pieces. Dock the dough with a fork, if desired.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until shortbread is lightly browned all over.
While the shortbread is still hot, use a sharp knife to cut shortbread all the way through along the lines you scored prior to baking. Allow shortbread to cool completely once it has been cut.
When cool, shortbread pieces should break apart very easily. Store in an airtight container.
I didn’t have a food processor that was large enough to accommodate this recipe, so I used my mixer instead. First I put in all the dry ingredients and swirled them around for about thirty seconds.
Then I added the butter, which was cut into large chunks, but the process ended up making quite a mess. With each pass of the mixing blade, flour and butter flew out of the bowl, so I covered the whole machine with a towel while it mixed.
The final result was this dry mix that seemed like clumpy sand, and I wasn’t at all sure I was on the right track.
It felt very weird to bake without eggs or milk or even oil. How was this powdery substance going to end up as a cookie?
After I poured the shortbread “batter” into the pan, I was concerned that it was missing something, so I called my mother-in-law, who I know has baked everything there is to bake at least once in her lifetime, and she reassured me that it was a different kind of dough, and that all I needed was the butter to bind it all together. Using a flat-bottomed glass at first, and then my hands, I pressed the crumbs down into the pan until everything was flat and smooth.
Then, I tried to score lines into the dough, but it just ruined the smoothness of the surface. I tried to press the grains back in that came loose, but that just made the lines invisible again.
The shortbread baked for thirty minutes in a 350 degree oven, and it came out nice and golden brown. While it was still warm, I re-scored the lines and pierced each block with a fork.
Once it had cooled, it was easily cut, and surprisingly delicious. Buttery and sweet, it was the perfect shortbread. Clooney liked it so much, that he requested it in his lunch the next day. And I have to say, there is no better evidence than that of a job well done.