Gay CookIf this recipe could help you with your Christmas baking, I would be thrilled. Scottish shortbread has been around since the 12th Century. Then it was made with yeast but eventually the yeast was substituted with butter and shortbread was born. Shortbread was made as early as Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th Century. Petticoat Tails were a traditional form of shortbread said to be enjoyed by the queen. The round shortbread was flavoured with caraway seeds, baked and cut into triangular wedges.

I was taught to make shortbread during a stay in Scotland with the flour piled on the wooden kitchen table, a hole made in the centre and filled with the sugar and butter cut into cubes. You began to knead the dough with your hands. The shortbread was crisp and delicious. We in Canada need to add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cornstarch to lessen the hardness of our flour that is  due to our cold weather. On this side of the water, we like convenience, so I now use a mixer as long as you don’t cream the butter. Otherwise the cookie would be soft and not crisp.

Shortbread is famous for its buttery taste so never try to make it with margarine or try to dress it up with vanilla, eggs, nuts or chocolate chips. You can dribble melted chocolate over baked cookies. If you wish you can replace half the flour with whole wheat flour.

Scottish Shortbread

Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies or 1, 9-inch (22.5-cm) circle

  • 1 cup (250 ml)  unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) fruit sugar ( finer than granulated sugar)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) cornstarch or rice flour
  • 1 3/4 cups (325 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • Pinch salt

By machine: Beat the butter, sugar, cornstarch and flour slowly just until the dough comes together.  Remove the dough, form into a disk, cover and chill for 30 minutes to rest the dough.

By hand: On a work surface, mound the flour and stir in the cornstarch or rice flour and salt. Make a well in the centre, add the butter and sugar and begin to work the two together  adding a little flour at a time until all the flour is used. Use the heel of your hand to knead briefly until the dough is pliable. Cover the dough and chill for 30 minutes to rest the dough. Preheat oven to 325ºF (160ºC).

Cookies: Roll the dough to 1/3-inch (1/2cm) thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into shapes and place the cookies on a non-greased baking sheet and prick the shapes twice with a fork. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until light golden.

Circle: Roll the dough to 1/3-inch (1/2cm) thickness on a lightly floured surface. Shape dough into a 9-inch (22 cm)  thick circle on a non-greased baking sheet. .  Flute the edges by pressing your thumb between the thumb and first finger of the opposite hand. Use a knife to score the outline of 16 wedges in the surface of the shortbread. Prick the surface 8-10 times with a fork and bake for 50 -60 minutes, or until light golden. Cool before removing from the baking sheet and then cut into wedges.