Aaaah, shortbread ... Quite possibly the friendliest of biscuits, don't you think? And quintessentially British too. I attach so much fondness to a piece of traditional buttery shortbread - memories of tea breaks when I worked in a department store and the canteen sold those tartan-clad twin packs of Walker's Shortbread; delicate shortbread discs with a dusting of sugar, lovingly baked by my English godmother in her stateside kitchen and then there's my most recent love, the TV series, Ted Lasso.
You'll almost certainly know the show which is sweet and funny and feel-good and at its core feels like an opportunity to watch people being kind to each other. Ted, the charming (and somewhat hopeless) football coach brings a small, pink box of freshly baked shortbread for his boss, Rebecca every morning and, well, what is there not to love about that.
Ted chose well, selecting shortbread as his sweet treat of choice - it's simple and delicious, but also filled with nostalgic charm and hard to make a mess of. I've just finished the final episode of Season 2 of Ted Lasso and will admit to feeling slightly bereft. Perhaps a fix of this Traditional Buttery Shortbread every now and then will help to fill the hole. As well as the book which I've just started reading, 'A Man called Ove' by Fredrik Backman, which is also about kindness and finding it in unlikely places. And, by the way, I'm reliably informed that Ove is pronounced, “Oo-vuh”, as in "sounds like hoover". It's a heartwarmer.
So what do we need to know about shortbread before we get started?
Shortbread is a sweet, crumbly biscuit with a very short list of ingredients. It comes together very easily and has a nostalgic simplicity which is perhaps at the core of its charm. The butter provides the key flavour to the shortbread, so it's important to stick to decent butter and not be tempted to use margarine.
Why is the addition of cornflour important?
Cornflour is added to the flour to enhance the 'melt in the mouth' texture but you can replace this with ground rice or finely ground semolina if that's what you have to hand.
How do I make this Traditional Buttery Shortbread?
- Preheat the oven.
- Line a square tin with baking parchment.
- Mix the flour, cornflour, caster sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Now add the room temperature butter in small pieces to the bowl.
- I used an electric hand whisk to mix together the ingredients until breadcrumbs are formed. You could also use your finger tips here.
- Then use your hands to bring the mixture together into a smooth dough.
- Press the dough into the prepared tin. I had a lot of fingermarks on mine which I didn't like, so I used a flat sided glass to lightly flatten it out. You could also use the flat underside of a measuring cup.
- Chill the tray in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes until the shortbread is just starting to turn golden.
- Divide into portions with a sharp knife while the shortbread is still hot and sprinkle with a little caster sugar.
- Leave the shortbread to cool completely in the tin.
I wanted to make fingers of shortbread (as seen in Ted Lasso's daily pink box delivery), so I chose to use a square tin. Alternatively, you could gently roll out the dough and cut out shapes with a cutter. Place them on a lined tray and chill for 30 minutes before baking.
Things I have learned about making shortbread -
- The dough comes together easiest when the butter is at room temperature.
- A little salt balances the sweetness of the shortbread.
- Don't handle the dough too much - it will become tough.
- Chill the dough once it is pressed into the tin, or rolled and cut out into shapes - it will keep the shortbread crumbly rather than crunchy.
- It's easiest to control the amount of sugar sprinkled on the top of the shortbread if you use your fingers rather than a spoon.
- A little almond flavouring might be a nice addition, or alternatively the zest of a lemon.
- The shortbread keeps nicely in an airtight tin for at least a week.
How should this Traditional Buttery Shortbread be best enjoyed?
I love a piece of shortbread with a cup of coffee (black, no sugar for me) but I accept that pairing it with a cup of tea is the traditionalist's choice. A couple of pieces of shortbread slipped into a packed lunch will undoubtedly make someone's day and I'm also scheming that the next time I enjoy an Affogato, I might arrange to have a piece of shortbread on the side.
Most of all this Traditional Buttery Shortbread should be enjoyed with a good book or a heartwarming TV show or alongside someone you love.
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