Shortbread, especially Scottish Shortbread, is one of those “simple to learn, but a lifetime to master” recipes. There are modern shortbread recipes (and in fact I posted one just the other day, for my Meyer Lemon-Cardamom Shortbread Bars), and there is whipped shortbread, which is light and airy and melts in your mouth; it’s a different kind of cookie altogether. Scottish Shortbread, on the other hand, is dense, heavy, and somewhat stodgy (somewhat like my ancestors, hahahahaha please don’t kill me); it’s strong enough to be dunked into your afternoon tea with nary a crumble.
This recipe is no different: with only four(!) ingredients, each has a vital part to play, and the recipe would likely fail without any one of them. And with so few ingredients, they have to be a) the best quality you can afford, and b) used precisely as the recipe states, since there’s nowhere to hide imperfection.
As uncompromising as my Scottish forebears, in fact 😉
Needless to say, this is not a difficult recipe, and there are opportunities to play a bit with different flavour combinations, to find your unique signature cookie. And happily, these last for a fairly long time given proper storage, so if you feel like busting out several batches at once to try new flavours, you won’t have to worry about having to eat them all quickly or give them away…unless you want to.
YIELD: 12-16 cookies (depending on cut pattern) | PREP: 15 mins | BAKE: 35 mins
- 2 cups/240g all-purpose flour
- 1 cup/230g good quality unsalted butter, cubed and brought to room temperature
- ½ cup/120g caster sugar*
- ½ tsp/2.5g Kosher salt
- 1 cup of any of the following: chopped toasted nuts, dried fruit (chopped apricots, cranberries, raisins, currants, etc.), freeze-dried fruit pieces, crystallized ginger, toffee bits, mini chocolate chips, fresh herbs, various flavours of jam
- Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter a 9”x9” square baking pan or equivalent diameter round cake tin for triangles and set aside.
- Pulse sugar (see * below if not using caster sugar), flour, salt and butter in a food processor until combined. It should look like graham cracker crumbs but be soft and pliable, and hold together if you squeeze a handful. If too dry and crumbly, do not add any more liquid; pulse a little longer. Once the correct consistency, stir in any optional ingredients.
- Dump out the mixture directly into the greased baking pan. Use your fingers and the back of a flat cup (like a measuring cup) to firmly press the mixture down flat and level and reaching the corners. Make sure all crumbs have been well-flattened into the cookie mass, and it is as pressed down as you can manage; this step gives the cookies their structure and longevity.
- Place the shortbread on the middle rack and bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating halfway through, until light golden and firm. Remove from oven and cool in pan. While still hot, you can optionally prick the shortbread all over the surface with the tines of a fork and lightly score lines between each row of fork tines to create a more classic look and make cutting the shortbread easier after it’s cooled.
- Cut and serve. You can store the remaining shortbread in an airtight container for several weeks, as its flavor and texture will continue to improve over time.
Troubleshooting: If the mixture is too dry to get it to stay together, or allow it to be pricked a fork, then it needs more pulse time in the food processor.
*Caster sugar is a UK ingredient, which is granulated sugar that’s a bit more finely ground but not as finely ground as icing/powdered sugar. The best way to replicate this is to pulse granulated sugar in a blender or food processor until the grains are very fine. It’s important to note that you should absolutely not use icing sugar in this recipe; save that for your whipped shortbread recipes!