Shortbread biscuits

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

According to Florence Marian McNeill in a 1929 book, The Scots Kitchen, a decorated form of shortbread, known as ‘infar-cake’, was the wedding cake of rural Scotland. On the first day of the marriage, or ‘Infare day’, the infar-cake was broken over the bride’s head on the threshold of her new home. This very old custom finds its origin in paganism.

The textbook shortbread is one part sugar for two parts butter and three parts flour. My version contains slightly less sugar and a little more butter. Some of the flour is also replaced by rice flour, cornflour or semolina to make the biscuits even more brittle and short. I was looking for the taste and texture of my favourite Shortbread fingers and this recipe is very close.

I’ve given the method for regular round biscuits, shortbread fingers and petticoat tails, where the biscuit is baked in a large round and cut into portions like a pie. In the 1990s, it was popular in tearooms to push glace cherries into the shortbread dough to make Cherry shortbread. Today it’s popular to add edible lavender, but when it comes to shortbread, I think simplicity wins.

Ingredients

  • 200 g (7 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 50 g ( oz) cornflour (cornstarch), semolina or rice flour, or a combination
  • 75 g ( oz) caster (superfine) sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 175 g (6 oz) butter, at room temperature but not soft
  • flour, for dusting

Method

Add the dry ingredients to a large bowl and combine well. Rub in the butter until the mixture is the consistency of breadcrumbs. Knead the mixture until it comes together into a smooth dough. Do not overknead or the biscuits will be less short and brittle.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator while you preheat your oven to 160°C (320°F).

For 10 round shortbreads

Cover a baking tray with baking paper.

Flour your work surface and pat the dough flat with your hands until it is about 7 mm (¼ inch) thick. Do not roll the dough or the shortbreads will be chewy. You can put a sheet of baking paper on top of the dough and brush it with the palm of your hand so that your shortbreads have a smooth top.

Cut out biscuits with a 7 cm (2¾ inch) cutter. Pat the left-over dough back together and keep cutting out biscuits until there is no dough left.

Neatly prick the shortbreads all over with a fork, place on the baking tray and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.

The shortbread should not gain too much colour – a golden blush around the edges is enough. Remove the shortbread from the oven and immediately sprinkle with the caster sugar. Let the shortbreads cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to move them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Keep the shortbreads in an airtight container and eat them as quickly as possible.

For 16 shortbread fingers

Prepare a 20 cm (8 inch) square cake tin.

Pat the dough flat, place it in the lined tin and then push it out to cover the base of the tin. Place a second sheet of baking paper over a baking tray and flip the tin over to turn the dough out onto the tray, with the smooth side on top. Slide the dough back into the lined tin, with the smooth side up. Use a knife to gently score lines to cut the shortbread into 16 fingers.

Bake the shortbread in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes.

The shortbread should not gain too much colour – a golden blush around the edges is enough. Remove the shortbread from the oven, cut it into fingers and sprinkle it with the caster sugar. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then use a spatula to carefully transfer the shortbread to a wire rack to cool completely.

For 8 petticoat tails

Pat the dough roughly in the shape of a circle, 1 cm (½ inch) thick. Use a rolling pin or place a sheet of baking paper on top of the dough to smooth it out. Turn the dough so that the smoothest side is facing upwards. Using a 22 cm ( inch) plate as a guide, trim the dough into a neat circle.

Use a knife to gently score the shortbread into portions as you would divide a cake. Prick the shortbread all over with a fork in a decorative pattern. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes.

The shortbread should not gain too much colour – a golden blush around the edges is enough. Remove the shortbread from the oven, cut it into petticoat tails and sprinkle with the caster sugar. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then use a spatula to carefully transfer the shortbread to a wire rack to cool completely.