Holiday Shortbread

This is the real deal – a Scottish shortbread recipe handed down in my mother’s family (her parents were from Scotland), and trotted out by me every year at around this time. It is quite “short,” meaning that it has a high proportion of shortening (butter, in this case) to flour. Despite that, it will seem difficult to include all the flour as you’re mixing – but don’t give up! It will finally combine, although the end result will be a very crumbly mixture, much looser than you may be used to. In fact, you have to compact the little cakes as if you’re making sand pies. The finished product is a crumbly, rich cake that fairly screams out to be eaten while sipping a nice hot cup of tea.

I once brought some of this shortbread in to the office where I worked at the time, and one of the women there asked for the recipe, which I happily provided. The following Monday she complained to me that she tried to make it, and it was a disaster. When I questioned her, it turned out that she had used margerine instead of butter, and that combining all the flour was too hard, so she didn’t bother! She also used dark brown instead of light brown sugar. So let that be a lesson.

3 1/3 cups white, all-purpose flour

2 sticks (16 T) unsalted butter

2/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed in the measuring cup (this is important)

A large sheet of brown paper, for baking

A baking sheet or 14″ pizza sheet

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Let the butter soften to room temperature, then cream it together with the brown sugar. Add the flour a handful at a time, mixing each in thoroughly. Use all the flour. Lay out the brown paper on your baking sheet, and cut it to fit. Take a good handful of the shortbread mixture and form into a flat, densely packed cake, about 5/8″ to 3/4″ thick. and about 4″ in diameter. Make the sides as vertical as you can, and press around the edges with the tines of the fork, to firm up the sides. Also, use the fork to prick the top in a traditional cross pattern. Repeat with the rest of the mix – you should have 6 or 7 cakes. Bake on the brown paper-covered sheet until brown – about 30 – 40 minutes (you may have to do two batches). Cool on a wire rack. Store the shortbread cakes by wrapping them in aluminum foil – do not refrigerate – they’ll keep for weeks un-refrigerated,  wrapped in the foil (assuming they’re not all eaten within days).

Shortbread dough (above). It’s crumbly, but can be packed.
 Form the shortbreads right on the baking paper (above). Don’t worry about crumbs (below).
Finished shortbreads – ready to eat or wrap as gifts

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