Shortbread: a delicious, butter-crumble biscuit that has provided comfort on many occasions! It’s too good to be shared at Christmas alone, so why not try a few variations throughout the year? (That way it can really be appreciated.)
Chunky Shortbread, thin wafers, traditional shapes all have their own place and appeal. The addition of orange, grapefruit, lime or lemon rind to what is already a divine nibble is a culinary revolution! Other ideas include dunking the baked shortbread in melted chocolate, the addition of vanilla or coffee essence and -a challenge for the truly bold- chopped nuts.
Basic Shortbread Recipe
Let’s sort out the basics first – a shortbread recipe for the purists to enjoy, as is, or for the experimentalists to explore with!
- 50g (2oz) caster sugar
- 175g (6oz) plain flour (or rice flour if you prefer)
- 100g (4oz) butter or block margarine
- Pinch of salt (optional)
Either whizz all the ingredients together in a food processor to form a dough, or, cream the butter and sugar together with your fingers and then slowly work in the flour until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs (in hot weather, I find it helps to use butter straight from the fridge, grate it into your processor or mixing bowl). Then chill the dough, wrapped in cling film, in the fridge for at least an hour. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1cm for finer biscuits, then, use a pastry cutter to cut the desired amount (and size) of rounds. Alternatively, press the mixture into a straight-sided sandwich tin and level off the top.
If you intend to make ‘petticoat’ shaped biscuits, prick the top of the pressed mixture all over with a fork, then use a suitable knife to cut right through to the bottom of the tin, to make eight, equal, portions. Refrigerate the mixture in the baking receptacle of your choice for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 150ºC.
Bake in the oven for about one hour-until the mixture is a pale straw/golden colour. Cool the shortbread first in the baking container, then on wire racks.
Variations For Your Shortbread
Shortbread dough is quite delicate to handle, so bear that in mind before you start. Don’t let that stop you from experimenting with your favourite variations though! If it goes wrong serve it on top of some fruit puree with chopped nuts and cream as a crumble with a difference!
For a ‘hint of’ something different just add one teaspoonful of vanilla essence to the basic dough. Try shortbread with a teaspoonful of coffee, peppermint, or any other quality essence that takes your fancy; just make sure the dough does not get sticky.
Finely chopped walnuts can be added to the mixture before baking too; one tablespoonful for the quantities given is sufficient. Try using 110g (4oz) of ground almonds, mixed with one of the following citrus fruits, for a change.
Grated rind of one lemon, small orange or grapefruit or lime, makes a summery addition to the shortbread dough and gives the finished biscuit a pleasant light tang.
Use the basic shortbread recipe, but add 1 beaten egg, 1 teaspoon ground ginger and 1 tablespoon ground almonds during the mixing process. When the dough is ready to bake, cut it in half and fill the base of your cake tin then add about 100g (4oz) of drained, mashed peaches (or other tinned fruit of your choice.) Spread the rest of the dough on top. Bake for about 1 hour in an oven-preheated to 180ºC. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Serve with cream and/or a sauce of pureed fruit.
If you have a seriously sweet tooth and want to include chocolate in your home-made sugar fix, go for Chocolate-coated Shortbread! Simply melt the chocolate of your choice (in a bowl over a pan of boiling water.) Then carefully dunk both the ends, one side, or even all, of your cooked shortbread biscuits in the chocolate.
Now, the hard part, leave it to cool! Well, most of it anyway. Some of it? Well, you can always make some more to share, I suppose…