Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cooking School: Shortbread

There is something so delicious about shortbread, beyond just the flavor. I think it's the simplicity that makes it so appealing, that a few basic, simple ingredients can come together into an amazing product.
And that description is not over-the-top if you have had good shortbread.
I am of the opinion that everyone should know how to make shortbread. It is incredibly easy and you only need flour, butter and a little sugar. It's hard to mess up. All you do is combine all the ingredients - I prefer to rub the butter in by hand, but it is perfectly acceptable to use a food processor - press into a pan and bake.
Of course, though plain shortbread is wonderful, there are many ways you can liven it up. For this batch, I added the zest of a lemon. Orange zest is an equally good choice. In the past, I have used mints and chocolate-covered espresso beans to top them, giving the shortbread a pleasing seasonal appeal, but just about any dried spice or herb can be added.
This recipe produces shortbread that is crisp and seems to melt into your mouth as it crumbles. I doubled the original recipe, increasing it from an 8x8 pan to a 13x9 pan. The baking time only needed to be extended by a minute or two, but I recommend watching the corners of the pan for browning. As they turn golden, the shortbread is done.

(from a Better Homes and Gardens Recipe)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 tbsp sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into 10-12 pieces
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325F.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt. Pulse to combine. Add butter to flour mixture and pulse until mixture looks like very coarse sand.
Press evenly into 13x9-inch baking sheet.
Bake for 25-32 minutes, until the corners turn golden.
Let cool for 5 minutes, then gently score with a knife (a pizze cutter works wonderfully), cutting the shortbread into 30 pieces. Allow to cool completely in the pan.
Store in an airtight container.
Makes 30 pieces

Variations: Add zest of one lemon or one orange (or both) for a bright, summery variation. Add 1 tsp cinnamon, ginger or cardamom for spicer versions.
If you have vanilla sugar, this would be an excellent recipe to use it in.