An invaluable part of every cooks repertoire are small things like cookies. As a light snack, after dinner with coffee or a thoughtful hostess gift when visiting friends, the thoughtfulness of something handmade lets others know how much we value them.
One of my favourite cookies is shortbread. If I am out and there is a plate of cookies I will go for the shortbread (if it is homemade I am not a fan of the Danish ones in the blue tins).
While shortbread has its origins in Scotland other European countries have a long history of making similar cookies. For example in Sweden another popular shortbread type recipe is called ‘drömmar’, literally meaning dreams. The main difference between the Scottish shortbread and the Swedish ‘drömmar’ is the butter is browned by placing the butter in a large heavy pan and cooking it over medium-low heat without stirring for about 15 minutes, or until butter is a light tan colour.
Scottish shortbread is a type of unleavened cookie which was traditionally made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts oatmeal flour. Today plain white (wheat) flour is most commonly used. Adding other ingredients such as cornflour alters the texture. You can substitute gluten free flours very successfully.
Shortbread was named because of its crumbly texture (from an old meaning of the word short). The cause of this texture is its high fat content, provided by the butter. The short or crumbly texture is a result of the fact that the fat inhibits the formation of long protein gluten strands. The related word "shortening" refers to any fat that may be added to produce a short or crumbly texture. That’s why you can beat it for ten minutes and it doesn’t get tough. Shortbread cookies hold their shape under pressure, if you just combine the mixture until it holds together you can press it out into large rounds or slabs cut to shape and cook it and it will be a delicious solid cookie that is perfect for lunch boxes.
For something a bit special you can pipe it. To do this you have to beat it. What is the difference you might ask? My favourite recipe says to beat it for ten minutes. I wondered ‘is that was really necessary?’
After some experimentation I can say yes it is.
I mixed the ingredients in the recipe below until just combined. This took about two minutes.
It hadn’t changed colour as you can see but it was holding together. It was really hard to pipe and after cooking the cookies were flatter. This is the stage I would press it out into a disc or slab, cut and cook. Traditionally the slabs and discs were cut after cooking but I like to cut it before.
After five minutes of beating the mixture was lighter, easier to pipe and held their shape a little more.
After ten minutes of beating it was very pale, light, easy to pipe and it held the ridges from the piping much better during the cooking.
As the mixture in the bag and bowl warmed it held its shape less while cooking so next time I will put it in the refrigerator between trays.
After about eight minutes in my oven the cookies were ready. Below is the finished result.
The photo below shows the results of the different amounts of beating after the cookies are cooked. Above the number 2 are cookies after two minutes of beating, above the 5 the five minutes of beating and the ones on the right are the after ten minutes of beating.
Piped Shortbread Cookies/Biscuits
When piped to about 2.5 cm/1 inch this recipe makes approximately 120 cookies.
1 cup, 250 grams softened butter
1 ¼ cups, 185 grams all-purpose flour
½ cup, 75 grams confectioners' sugar
¼ cup, 45 grams cornflour
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
Nuts, chocolate chips, maraschino cherries
- Preheat oven to 350 ° F (180 °C.)
- Combine butter, flours, vanilla and confectioner's sugar and beat for 10 minutes.
- Drop from teaspoon onto cookie sheet or pipe a shape. Decorate with maraschino cherry pieces or something else tasty.
- Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly browned.
Makes approximately 100 cookies
1 ½ cups, 375grams butter
¾ cup, 150 grams white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 ½ cups, 375 grams all-purpose flour
50 -100 blanched whole almonds, toasted
- Preheat oven to 350 °F /180 °C.
- Place butter in a large heavy skillet and cook over medium-low heat without stirring for about 15 minutes, or until butter is a light tan color. Pour all of it, including the solid bits into mixing bowl. Cool at room temperature until firm.
- Place browned butter, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon into your mixer bowl and beat until combined. Stir in flour and then beat for 3 minutes. If you want too pipe the cookies beat the dough for 10 minutes.
- Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 1 inch apart on an lined baking trays. Top each with an almond; press almond slightly into dough.
- Bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire rack and cool.