Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A Christmas Classic: Shortbread

Ok, I know it's now January and that Christmas was over a week ago, but I need to post about shortbread because it's one of the Christmas baking staples from my childhood. We never went a year without making shortbread cookies, and most years we made more than one batch because we'd eat them up so quickly. I personally made two batches this year: one to share with my students, and one to share with my colleagues at school. My Mom also made one batch for the family Christmas party. They're one of the simplest cookies - only four ingredients. However, shortbread has many subtleties. You can just as easily end up with a flat, crispy cookie as with a soft, chewy, buttery treat. Read on for my tricks.

Shortbread Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling the dough)

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. (This is trick #1: many people use white sugar in shortbread, but brown sugar gives you a softer, chewier texture in the finished product). Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Add the flour in 1/2 cup increments and mix. On the last addition the dough should come together. Using your hands, form it into a ball.
Flour your rolling surface, your hands, the top of the dough ball, and the rolling pin to prevent sticking. Roll the dough out until it is about 1/4 inch thick (This is trick #2: rolling your dough too thin will create a crispy cookie rather than a soft shortbread). Using cookie cutters of your choosing, cut the dough into shapes and place the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet. Decorate with coloured sugar, chocolate chips, or leave plain. Bake for 6-10 minutes, depending on the size of the cookie (smaller shapes require less time). You will know the cookies are done as soon as the centres are puffed up. (This is trick #3: don't bake your shortbread for too long! As soon as the cookies look puffy, get them out of the oven.)  Allow cookies to cool on the sheet for about 3 minutes and then transfer to wire baking racks to cool completely.

A simple cookie with many subtleties. Despite having baked two batches this year, I neglected to snap any photos of the finished products. Rest assured, they were buttery and soft with just a hint of sweetness, and decorated with festive red and green sugar.

I considered making the beats festive, but it seems a bit ridiculous now that we are past Christmas AND New Year's to post a Christmas song. So instead, I chose a song that, like the shortbread cookies, is simple, but has many subtleties. This Year's Love: David Gray.

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