Shortbread is one of my favourite foods, but I almost never think of it when I'm not actually eating it. I mean, shortbread is plain, right? It's just some sugar and butter and flour, all mushed together and cooked in little disks or drops or whatever.
Thing is, those little discs (or drops, or whatever) are the very definition of delicious. They crumble as soon as they meet your teeth, coat your tongue, and beg you to eat just one more of them.
Or two more. Or eight more. Really, who's counting?
I knew I had to include shortbread in my Christmas dessert buffet, so I turned to my two favourite bakers for their opinion on the subject. Nothing in Nigella Lawson's cookbooks really spoke to me, but I struck gold with the shortnin' bread cookies in Joyce White's BROWN SUGAR.
And y'all? I ate about half of them before they made it into the freezer, let alone onto the dinner table. They were that good.
- 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 2 sticks butter or margarine, softened
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup walnuts or pecans (I didn't use them as my grandmother dislikes nuts, and the cookies didn't suffer for their absence)
- 4 ounces/115 grams dark chocolate wafers
- 2 tablespoons butter
Preheat your oven to 350°F/175°C.
Combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Plunk the sugar and the two sticks of butter into a large mixing bowl. Beat them with a handheld or stand mixer for about two minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and the nuts, if you're using them.
Add the flour to the wet ingredients and mix everything until it's just blended.
Now, this is the part where Joyce White and I differ. She instructs the baker to form the dough into a disc and chill it for an hour and a half, after which point it'll be "easy" to roll out and cut into squares.
I did this. And let me tell you, it was one of the worst culinary experiences of my life.
The chilled dough would not roll without crumbling to pieces. I had to let it warm up again before it was even remotely manageable, and even then it refused to fully cooperate with me. The edges cracked, so I could only use a small portion in the middle of the dough before I had to mush it up and start over.
It was beyond ridiculous, so I threw the instructions out the window. Instead of squares, I broke off tablespoon-sized portions of dough and rolled them into nice little balls.
I cooked these balls for about fifteen minutes, until the bottoms were just slightly brown. They emerged from the oven the shortbread of my dreams: soft, crumbly, totally mouth-melty.
So you can try the whole chill-and-roll thing, if you want, but I advise you to save yourself the trouble and make shortbread balls instead. You can still chill the dough if you'd like, but don't bother rolling it. (NB: chilled dough makes more-or-less spherical cookies like those pictured above. Unchilled dough results in somewhat flatter cookies.)
Once you have either your shortbread squares (boo) or your shortbread balls (yay!) all baked and cooled, you can get on with glazing them. Melt the two tablespoons of butter over low heat, then add the chocolate and give it a brisk stir until it's fully melted and smooth.
Lay a piece of wax paper out on a large baking sheet. Dip your cooled cookies into the chocolate glaze so they're half covered, as pictured above. The glaze is a bit recalcitrant, so if you want to spread it with a spoon instead of dipping the cookies, or if you want to forget about it and simply use traditional melted chocolate (which you get with a double boiler, or by placing a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water), I won't try to stop you. Lay your dipped cookies on the baking sheet to firm up.
If possible, resist the temptation to eat fifteen of them at once. If not, enjoy your shortbread.