A Pound of Butter and other shortbread stories
I think about shortbread too often. I think about shortbread on hot days and cold days. I think about shortbread during breakfast, during dinner, and every hour in between. I think about the buttery, crumbly, toasty cookies while reading a book or watching a movie or sitting in meetings. I surrendered long ago, shortbread owns me.
Actually, I love all sweets (as befits a co-owner of a bakery). I love three-layer cakes, chocolate chip cookies, and I am crazy about Bundts and brownies, but they all fall under the category of “controlled vices”. I can be satisfied with just a sliver – a mere taste – of these sweets and move on about my day. But not shortbread (and if you really want to know, I have an ice cream habit as well). One shortbread cookie leads to another shortbread cookie, leads to…well…12 or more shortbread cookies which leads to shame and guilt and cookie crumbs. I am not proud.
Thankfully, the holidays are near. Mass cookie consumption is almost embraced (at Baked, we very nearly endorse it via our 12 days of cookies marathon). It is the one time of year that my shortbread addiction goes virtually unnoticed. So, I hope you don’t mind that I want to foist a great recipe upon you. I hope you will not judge me when you realize the recipe calls for 1 full pound of butter.
Before you shriek in horror (“Damnation, 1 full pound of butter, is he INSANE?”), a few things:
1. The recipe makes a whole lot of cookies. A lot! It’s not like there is a stick of butter in each cookie (maybe every 12 or so…but…never mind).
2. This is an adaptation of my grandmother’s recipe. She made them a lot and she was lithe, athletic, and lived a long and fulfilling life.
3. These are very good and, in moderation, a worthwhile indulgence.
4. If you halve the recipe (which I did below) you only use a half-pound of butter. Doesn’t that sound more palatable? – almost Weight Watcher worthy?!
Honestly, these cookies are perfect for any holiday soiree. And you can do almost anything with them: roll them out and cut them into holiday shapes, dip half of each cookie in chocolate, sprinkle them with fleur de sel, add a handful of chocolate chips to the batter, etc…etc…
By the way, my grandmother would frown upon “mucking about” with this recipe. She was a strong proponent of shortbread should be shortbread, and I understand her reasoning, but chocolate dipped…oh my…
And now the recipe with a few notes:
1. Shortbread can be tricky. Make sure you do not overwork the dough, use a good quality (and coldish) butter, and refrigerate for the requested amount of time.
2. I prefer thicker shortbread cookies (this is the way my grandmother made them), and though I am okay with thinner shortbread, I think they taste vastly different. Maybe roll out the four dough ball portions below into several different thicknesses to discover your favorite.
3. Unlike almost every other cookie, you do not want these cookies to “turn golden brown”. Pull them out of the oven at the first signs of color.
4. If you have not done so yet, please enter our 12 days of cookies giveaway prize thing. Exciting prizes like a Williams-Sonoma gift card, a Limited Edition Baked Bundt Pan, and other Baked goodies await you.
CLASSIC SHORTBREAD recipe adapted from Baked Explorations (I halved the recipe, feel free to double it).
½ pound unsalted butter, cut into cubes, cool but not cold (try 15 minutes out of the refrigerator)
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup rice flour (brown or white)
1 egg yolk
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter on high speed until smooth. Add the sugar and salt and beat on medium speed until incorporated (about 2 mins). In a medium bowl, whisk the flours together than add half the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture. Mix on the ABSOLUTE LOWEST speed until just incorporated. Add the remaining flour mixture and again, mix on the ABSOLUTE LOWEST speed until incorporated. Add the egg yolk and stir until almost combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until uniform. Do not overwork it. Divide the dough into 4 equal balls, shape into disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dust a work surface with a tiny bit of flour and working with one piece of chilled dough at a time (leave the others in the fridge) roll out into the shape of a perfect circular pizza about ½ inch thick. (You can also ignore the pizza shape instructions, and just roll out ½ inch thick if you want to make Christmas cookie cut-outs). Cut the round into wedges, transfer to the prepared baking sheet via a wide spatula, prick the tops of the cookies a few times with the tines of a fork and bake in the middle of the oven for 17-22 minutes. Remove immediately once the cookies take on even a hint of color. Cool on pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Cookies can keep up to 5 days (in an airtight container) but they will NOT last that long in your house. I promise.
-If you want to dip your cookies in chocolate: gently melt 4-5 ounces of good quality dark chocolate. Allow the chocolate to come to room temperature. Dip half of a completely cooled cookie in the chocolate, place the dipped cookie on a clean parchment lined cookie sheet to set. Repeat with remaining cookies and chocolate.
-I like to sprinkle a handful of fleur de sel on the cookies before baking. Entirely up to you. Not necessary, but encouraged.