Every Christmas when I was a girl, my grandmother would show up with a present for me in one hand and a foil-wrapped brick of shortbread cookies for my father in the other. It was never placed under the tree with the other presents, but you could be sure that it was always dad’s favourite. A few years ago my grandmother passed away, and I decided to see if I could make some of the cookies dad missed so much. Thanks to my aunt who had the recipie, this is once again a holiday favourite in our house.
These cookies are made of only three ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter. It’s worthwhile to buy fresh ingredients when you make these cookies, because if your ingredients are stale or have picked up any odours in the cupboard, you’ll be able to taste it.
Even though this recipe is simple, it can take time to master. You’ll need to have patience as you work the powdery mixture into dough (especially if you are working in a cold kitchen), and you’ll need to learn just how long to bake them. Don’t expect these cookies to melt or turn golden brown the way sugar cookies do – the shortbreads will come out of the oven looking pretty much like the little white bricks that went in.
This recipe calls for berry sugar, which can also be known as superfine sugar. It’s essentially granulated sugar that has smaller particles than standard table sugar. If you can’t find any in your local grocery store, go head and use regular granulated sugar; the texture will be a little less refined but the cookies will still taste great.
Our family’s tradition is to cut the cookies into thick bricks and prick each cookie a few times with a fork, but you can shape the dough any way you want. And you don’t have to wrap the cookies in foil the way my practical grandmother did, but I think you’ll find they taste better that way.
Traditional Scottish Shortbread
Yield: 4 dozen cookies
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup berry sugar (superfine sugar)
- 1 pound unsalted butter
- Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour and sugar together.
- Cut the butter into the flour/sugar mixture using a pastry blender until it is the size of rice grains. (If you want to save your wrists, you can mix all the ingredients together in a stand mixer – but my grandmother would not approve).
- At this stage the mixture looks like a white powder, and you may be wondering if you measured the ingredients incorrectly. Using clean hands, take about 1/3 of the mixture at a time, and knead it until it comes together to form a dough. If you are working in a cold kitchen or find that the mixture is too stiff, you can soften it by warming it up for a few seconds at a time in the microwave, being careful not to melt the butter!
- Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is 1/2 inch thick.
- Cut the dough into one inch by two inch rectangles and prick each piece three times with a fork. (Alternatively, use cookie cutters to make other shapes.)
- Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cookies are baked through and the bottoms are a light golden brown. The cookies will hold their shape and keep their pale white colour. Be careful not to over-bake.