The truth is I never really liked shortbread. I've read hundreds of glowing descriptions of the cookie and never found one that actually lived up to the hype. In spite of this I was seduced by a recipe in a book, a beguiling photograph of cookies (that looked nothing like what I ended up with), and the romantic notion of classic shortbread. So I pulled out some salted butter (It was all I had in the house), flour and sugar and set to work. The recipe called for cutting in the butter and hand kneading the cookie dough in order to achieve the best texture. I grumbled under my breath, knowing full well that my trusty food processor would likely do as good of a job, if not better, than my fingertips but I I pushed forward. I use organic sugar in my pantry that is slightly coarser than regular granulated sugar, though not as coarse as raw sugar and I hoped that it would give the finished cookies a bit more crunch and texture. Although I was determined to follow the recipe, halfway through the mixing process I knew I had to add salt. Many classic shortbread recipes do not use salt and I understand that it's not traditional but nobody in my house will eat unseasoned cookies. They won't eat salty or salted (Who started that trend of adding flakes of salt to the tops of cookies?) cookies either. There's no point in baking cookies that no one will eat so I added salt to my dough in addition to the the salted butter. I rolled the dough out into a rough rectangle, scored it into bars, sprinkled more sugar over the top and slid the baking pan into the oven. I ended up cooking them for almost 40 minutes, way longer than the recipe called for, and cut them as soon as they cam out of the oven. Experience has taught me that waiting is a bad idea and there were no instructions for cutting the cookies in the recipe. Then I let them cool completely. Well, mostly, I stole a few crumbs here and there as I cut the cookies but I knew the proper texture wouldn't be achieved until they were cool.
The finished cookies were awesome, in equal part because they were delicious and the fact that I loved them was a complete surprise. Although Amaya was less than impressed--I find that kids in general don't seem to love shortbread, Alex and I have been eating these cookies steadily over the past few days. It is impossible to resist them. They have a crispness too them as you sink your teeth into the cookie, then they break cleanly under your teeth with a just a few crumbs melting around the edges. As you chew them they have a lovely sandy texture that rasps against your teeth as the flavor of butter washes across your palate, tempered with a hint of salt and finishing up with a lingering sweetness that leads you inexorably to the next bite. They are addictive and the recipe makes a generous number of cookies, easily 2 dozen, if not more, depending on how you slice them.
350 grams all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
145 grams sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 grams fine sea salt
225 grams cold, salted butter (I used cultured butter from Vermont Creamery)
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to blend. Dice the butter and add it to a bowl. Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut it into the flour until the butter until the mixture starts to resemble sandy streusel mixture. Then use your hands to knead the mixture together into a rough dough. Lightly dust your counter top with flour and turn out the dough, Knead it 2-3 times until it forms a relatively smooth dough. Shape it into a rough rectangle and take the parchment paper from your sheet pan and lay the dough on the paper. Roll it out into a rectangle approximately 1/2" thick. Use as little extra flour as you can get away with to do this. Brush away any excess flour when you are done. Score the top in horizontal lines approximately 1" thick and then in vertical lines approximately 2" apart to create rectangular cookies. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown and cooked through.
Remove the pan from oven and use a serrated knife to cut the individual cookies apart. Set the sheet pan on a rack and let the cookies completely on the pan before serving. Shortbread may be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
February 14, 2009
February 14, 2005