Monday, January 3, 2011

Recipe Monday

Happy Monday. Today's recipe is shortbread. I love shortbread. My mom would always make it when she was craving something sweet and had hardly any ingredients in the house. I was wanting something sweet and decided to try this recipe. One thing I like about this recipe is that it talks about the history of shortbread and variations. It tastes amazing too. Its just the perfect blend of butter and sugar. I did do something different in that I pressed the dough into a greased pie pan instead of making it into cookies, just like my mom used to. The though is to cut it into triangles like a pie kind of. It did not come out of the pan very well, so I want to work on that, but it tastes so well.

On the actual website there are links to variations of the basic recipe which look good, though I've never tried it. The link is on the bottom.

Shortbread Cookie Recipe

It's 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter and one part sugar. This recipe is for a small batch of cookies and the one I use for experimenting but it doubles or triples with no troubles. Just maintain the ratio.

3/4 cup flour, sifted
1/4 cup superfine sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter (I used salted and it was fine)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Work in the butter with a fork or pastry cutter until the dough has the consistency of short crust.
Pulsing in a food processor will work also.
Sprinkle a board or your counter top lightly with flour. Turn the dough onto the board and knead until it's smooth. Refrigerate the dough for a couple of hours or overnight.
You should have approximately 8 ounces of dough. Divide the dough into four equal portions for large cookies or eight equal portions for small cookies and shape into rounds.
For consistency you might want to pull out your kitchen scales.
Place each round on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and flatten them with the bottom of a glass to about 1/4 inch thickness. Prick with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cookies begin to brown slightly. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet.

About The Butter

Butter is the only flavoring in this cookie. You get sweetness from the sugar and the flour gives it body but it's the butter that supplies the taste.
All true shortbread cookie recipes should include butter. Not lard, not butter flavored shortening and definitely not margarine but honest to goodness butter.
It should also be the freshest butter you can find. Since butter is the only flavoring you certainly don't want to use old tasting butter.
I've seen shortbread cookie recipes that say to use European style butter. I've tried it and for my taste it's not worth the additional expense. I'll just stick to my good old standby Land 'O Lakes.
The primary difference in American butter and European style butter is the butterfat content.
The American standard is that butter is 80% butterfat. European style butter is anywhere from 83% to 86% butterfat.
Try the European if you like but be prepared to take out a second mortgage on your house to buy it.

Shortbread History

Shortbread cookies are ancient. They started in Scotland way back when cooking, compared to today's standards, was crude at best. Of course they have evolved over time to what we know today.
The original shortbread cookie recipe probably included oat flour but when the English adopted it they substituted wheat flour. In Tudor England oats were considered animal food.
Traditional shortbread is baked in a round and then cut into wedges.
The story has it that the ancient Scots baked shortbread in the winter months and put cuts in the shortbread rounds to represent the suns rays. I suppose this was some sort of ritual to persuade the sun to return and do away with the cold winter.
The wintertime tradition holds on though because shortbread cookie recipes are among the most popular Christmas time cookie recipes.

Shortbread Pans and Shortbread Molds

If you would like to stick to the traditional round shortbread any round cake pan will do. Just press the dough in the pan and smooth out by pressing with any flat surface.
However if you really want to get fancy go for some of the shortbread pans or shortbread molds that are available.
You can probably find some interesting ones in your local cooking supply store but if not they're definitely available on the Internet.
I've even found the traditional round handmade wooden molds notched at the edges to signify the sun's rays. I've also found ceramic molds in all sizes, shapes and decorations.
Using a mold for your shortbread cookie recipe is not difficult. Just be sure to dust it with powdered sugar before filling and refrigerate for a time before baking.
The powdered sugar dusting will ensure an easy release from the mold and the refrigeration will help the dough maintain its design during baking.

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