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Friday, July 22, 2011

Scottish Shortbread

I love Walker's Scottish Shortbread. Most people think of this delicious treat during the holiday season but I love it all year long. Shortbread is one of the simplest recipes you'll find. It consists of three basic ingredients: sugar, butter, and flour. Of course, getting shortbread at home that is as good as what comes in those plaid packages can be a challenge.

The most basic recipes using the three classic ingredients are often not that tasty. Sometimes they seem far too bland and crumbly with a taste more akin to cardboard than those buttery bites of heaven. Part of the problem is the ratio of the three ingredients in many recipes and the other part is not enhancing those ingredients.

Shortbread is one of those treats where quality of ingredients makes a big difference. Don't scrimp on butter. If you can afford an artisanal butter or imported butter then by all means splurge. Because the butter is carrying almost all the flavor in this cookie you want one that really stands out. If the pricey imports are out of your budget range, my suggestion is Challenge Unsalted Butter. This butter has a wonderful taste free of "chemical" notes with a rich flavor. It consistently ranks at the top of Cook's Illustrated's lists of supermarket butters. Try to avoid off brands or store brands in this recipe because you will be disappointed in the flavor.

When I sat down with my lists of various shortbread recipes to try to tweak one that would offer me that wonderful butter flavor I realized quickly I needed to enhance the ingredients a bit. My first tweak was to replace some of the creamed butter with browned butter. Browned butter gives a wonderful buttery flavor with lovely nutty tones. This adds a real depth of flavor to the recipe that makes it stand out from more bland versions. Another ingredient that is often overlooked in traditional recipes is salt. A bit of salt brings out the butter flavor and also gives a very subtle bite on the back end of the flavor. To improve the texture from something akin to a French sablée to a very smooth cookie, I substituted some of the regular granulated sugar with some powdered sugar. I found that chilling the dough helped immensely in rolling out the cookies. Finally, cooking the cookies long and low kept them from browning too quickly and forming that cardboard (and slightly burned) texture.

I love the results I got with this recipe and now that I have come up with a delicious shortbread cookie I don't think I'll be buying quite so many boxes in the store! Sorry, Walker's.

: Scottish Shortbread
: Buttery flavor in a traditional shortbread cookie created with creamed butter and browned butter.

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup browned butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

  1. Cream unsalted butter in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  2. In a non-stick skillet, brown 1/2 cup of butter by slicing butter into small pieces and heating over medium heat until butter is melted. Whisk butter constantly until butter begins to brown. Immediately remove browned butter from heat and pour into bowl of mixer with creamed butter and sugar. Mix at medium speed until mixture is smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat at low speed until combined. Add salt and flour gradually with mixer on slow speed. Increase speed to medium until dough comes together.
  3. Form dough into a disk and wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour in refrigerator.
  4. Preheat oven to 300° and adjust oven rack to middle position. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Remove dough from plastic and place and very lightly floured surface. Roll dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut out circles or squares using a cookie cutter. Place cookies on prepared baking sheets and puncture with fork. Bake at 300° for 20-30 minutes or just until edges of cookies begin to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly on baking sheet then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 2 dozen cookies
Culinary tradition: Scottish

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