I don’t know about you, but shortbread cookies are, in my opinion, one of life’s ultimate pleasures. The sweet buttery taste, the delicious flakiness, and the golden sheen of a perfectly baked cookie.
Unfortunately, for some reason that escapes me, cafes often sell sugar cookies disguised as shortbread. Too many times have I bitten into a sugar cookie, expecting delicious buttery taste, only to be met with the flat sweetness of a sugar cookie. Sugar cookies are not meant to be eaten alone; they are the vehicle with which to load it with piles and piles of dried icing that tastes of paint thinner and colorant, formed in the shapes of symbols that we have deemed politically correct for the holidays that, in my opinion, have pretty much nothing to do with the holidays themselves.
But that’s just me.
Shortbread has a long and glorious history as a classic Scottish dessert (y’know Walker? the Shortbread? comes in a wee tin with the tartan on it?) except it used to be made with yeast.
I know. Gross.
Then good ol’ Mary, Queen of Scots, was like “oh hell naw”, (but she was Scottish royalty so it must have been more like “Och, this will never do”) and eventually refined the cookie into what we consider shortbread today; one part sugar, two parts butter, three parts flour, and four parts delicious.
Shortbread is one of those things in the baking world that is well nigh impossible to mess up. Much like cheesecake, unless you add too much liquid, your shortbread will inevitably and consistently come out flaky, buttery, and mouth-wateringly tasty.
(Unless you’re a particularly heinous kind of demon who doesn’t like shortbread.)
Now, the key to good shortbread is to keep your ratio of Flour: Butter: Sugar consistent and to avoid adding water to your cookies at all cost. Added liquid creates hard, crunchy cookies rather than flaky, crumbly cookies.
So preheat that oven to 350 F degrees, get out the butter, flour, sugar, vanilla, and salt and get cracking! My preferred ratio of ingredients is 3 cups of flour, 2 sticks of butter, and 1 cup of sugar (see? 3:2:1. I know my logic is 100% flawed but that’s the 3,2,1 ratio you’re going for. Add more butter and you’re going to feel your arteries clogging. Add more sugar and you’re going to need three cups of water for every cookie that you eat). So, three cups flour, two sticks of butter (technically one cup of butter) and one cup of sugar. I usually cut the amount of sugar down to 3/4 of a cup but whatever floats your boat.
So, here’s how you make shortbread cookies:
Melt the butter, mix it with the sugar, add the flour, a pinch of salt, and a capful of vanilla (or a teaspoon if you can’t deal without measuring everything). Mix well until it forms a dough. Keep kneading. Don’t add water even if it looks like crumbs (keep kneading and the dough will form itself). Separate into two, flatten into disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge for half an hour. If you’re feeling adventurous, add two tablespoons of Matcha (green tea powder) to the mixture before it forms into dough.
Press the mixture without forming it into dough (it will resemble coarse crumbs) directly into a base-lined baking tin, score it, and bake that for 25 minutes.
Take it out of the fridge and roll it out on a floured surface. (my dough has this annoying habit of sticking to my rolling pin so I’ve discovered the best way to counteract this is to cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap and roll over that until it’s about 1/3 of an inch thick.
Now, here’s the fun part: choose a cookie cutter. You can be boring for your first batch and stick with round cookies:
Cut the cookies out and place them on an UNGREASED cookie sheet or baking tray (or line the tray with parchment paper and place the cookies onto the that. The point is, you don’t need to be adding extra grease to a cookie that is already 20% grease) and bake them in your preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on the top and bottom (the edges should be golden and the center should still be white-ish).
Remove the tray from the oven, let the cookies cool, and eat them all! You should probably save some for your sister but, after she ate most of the dough, you don’t really have to.