OK…OK…how exciting can shortbread be? It’s bland…boring…other than a crisp bite of sweet, there is nothing there, right?
Wrong, oh less-than-wise one…a good shortbread cookie can be a nice textural contrast to something smooth and sweet…ice cream for example…and it can also be the basic dough for some really extraordinary cookies.
This dough also makes a very good stand-alone shortbread cookie.
In this recipe we’ll go over how to make the best basic shortbread you have EVER tasted, and in a recipe that follows next week I’ll show you several different ways you can use the shortbread dough to make some really outrageous cookies with a different twist.
First, let’s go over the cast of characters…
All purpose flour, baking powder, salt, butter, sugar, eggs, a lemon, and an extract (my original recipe used vanilla extract, but I’ve begun using almond extract in these for just a bit of “different”).
Let me say something here about some ingredients I use…in this and other recopies in case I forget to later…
When baking or making sweets (candy, chocolates, etc) and a recipe of mine calls for butter, I mean unsalted butter unless I specify salted. When it is a recipe for a food, not sweet item, like Browned Butter Rice or Super Simple (and cheap) Pork Chops, I mean salted butter unless otherwise specified.
In this recipe I use all-purpose flour…and every recipe of mine uses all purpose flour unless it is listed differently in a recipe’s “cast of characters”.
On extracts, ALWAYS use real, not imitation, extracts…it will say which it is on the label, and it makes a huge difference in the quality of the completed item.
Now…on to the shortbread…
In a medium to large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 ¼ cups of flour, 1 tsp of baking powder, and ¼ tsp of salt and set aside.
With a mixer, cream together 2 sticks of softened (room temperature) butter and 2/3 cups of sugar. By “creamed” I mean mix together until the butter lightens in color. In my stand mixer this is about 3-4 minutes on medium speed.
Into the butter/sugar mixture, keep the mixer running as you add, in this order, 2 egg yolks, the zest and juice of one lemon (or lime or orange to match the center if you use this dough for thumbprint cookies, recipe to follow), and an extract. Originally this recipe called for vanilla extract, but I’ve begun using almond more and more.
Still keeping the mixer on low to medium, slowly add the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until well incorporated, but do not overdo it.
At this point you have a choice…using the dough as is you can make plain shortbread cookies (and these are the best you’ve ever had), or you can use the dough to make some fancy cookies. For ideas on how to “fancy ‘em up”, look for a recipe called “Bob’s Shortbread Upgrades” that will be on the blog by Friday, March 12, 2010. For plain shortbread cookies:
At this point you should have fairly dry, non-sticky dough. If not, VERY lightly flour a rolling/cutting surface…VERY LIGHTLY!…and roll out the dough until you have a sheet of dough that is ¼ inch thick.
Here’s a tip on rolling dough to a consistent thickness.
I’m about as spastic and uncoordinated as possible. I have real problems walking and chewing gum at the same time…and rolling dough so it isn’t paper thin at one end 6 inches thick at the other is a real challenge to me…so here is what I do. I went to the hardware store and bought wood dowels in the diameters I need to roll out dough…in this case that means ¼ inch, but get a variety for other things you roll out in different thicknesses…pizza dough, biscuits, etc.
From each size dowel, cut two pieces about 14-16 inches long. After beginning to work the dough down until it is close to the right thickness, place the dowels on either side of the dough parallel to each other, and rest the ends of the rolling pin on the dowels. This will give you a consistent ¼ inch (or whatever size dowel you are using) sheet of dough.
For traditional shortbread cookies…I hate “traditional”, I’m way too weird for traditional…You now have a sheet of dough ¼ inch thick and a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees.
What did you say? I didn’t say anything about pre-heating the oven? Are you sure? Well OK…but I thought I told you. Anyway, turn your oven on and set it at 350 degrees…
Shortbread cookies are usually round or rectangular. The end of a small tomato paste can is the right size for me to use to cut round cookies, and if you want rectangular cookies 1×2 inches is about right.
Don’t worry about perfectly straight edges…you want a homemade crafty look, not a factory made one, right?
Place the cookies on a VERY lightly greased cookie sheet (the one place I’d use a spray like “Pam”) and you can put them pretty close together…they grow very little while cooking.
Personally, I rarely grease a pan…I’ve fallen in love with parchment paper for cooking. You’d be amazed at all you can do with it besides just lining cookie sheets…but that’s an article for “Kitchen Stuff and Cooking Tricks” on the blog.
Bake the cookies for about 20 minutes (until golden brown) at 350 degrees…and enjoy!
Now…two final things:
First, to fancy these up a bit, remember to check out the recipe “Bob’s Shortbread Upgrades” which I’ll post tomorrow.
Second, today is the first day of what will be a regular feature on “JuicyMaters.com”…giveaways/drawings hidden in new posts…usually, but not always, somewhere in the “I’m Hungry…Let’s Eat!” section. Every new post won’t have a giveaway, but many will. You’ll just have to check back often and see, won’t you?…LOL…Entries will usually be open for 24-48 hours.
Today’s inaugural drawing is for a quart of homemade sauerkraut…REAL kraut, lacto-fermented kraut, not that vinegar-soaked salty cabbage that’s sold in the store…the real thing, like granny used to make in the cellar…and there will be three winners drawn in this contest.
Entering a JuicyMaters drawing is easy…in the comment section below, answer this question:
What will you use the kraut for besides a topping for hot dogs or bratwurst at a cook-out?
Entries will be closed at mid-night tomorrow, Friday, March 12, 2010 and winners will be chosen at random this weekend and announced as soon as I can contact the winners to confirm.