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Shortbread opinions & recipes

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I love shortbread almost more than anything. I just read a recipe that seems like a travesty - with softened butter!!

I thought the whole point of shortbread was that the butter must be kept as cold as possible and cut into the flour, not mooshed into it, which is why shortbread is a winter treat.

My recipe is in my head: 4 parts flour, 2 parts butter, one part sugar. Sometimes I have substituted a bit of rice flour for wheat flour - but only up to 1/2 cup or so.

Anyone else have ideas on the proper way to make shortbread?

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  1. Snackish I commend your shortbread purity.

    Don't let other people's idea of shortbread shake your faith in the original. Softened butter, my eye! They are just making a butter cookie, then, and not a very good one since a good, non-shortbread butter cookie needs eggs.

    Riceflour is the secret ingredient, I agree. It's not absolutely necessary, however, and, as you know, is not traditional.

    I follow a similar recipe to yours. The Cook's Illustrated shortbread recipe has become my standard. As you know, best cold butter is key. I've heard a story, (probably a legend) was that a Scottish (sometimes called Irish) housewife left butter on the windowsill, and there was a hard frost that night. She used it to make shortbread the next day and, according to various sources either a) grated or b) crumbled it into the dough. It was called the best shortbread around.

    Cold is key -- what was the source of this abomination of softened butter? With something of so few ingredients (sugar, butter, and either one or two flours) the quality, and definitely the temperature, of these ingredients will have a big impact.

    Real shortbread rules!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Mrs. Smith

      It was supposedly one of the best christmas cookies on christmas-cookies.com...but one of the other best recipes was for dog biscuits, so that tells you something.

      1. re: Mrs. Smith

        Mrs. Smith, could you let us in on that recipe for CI. I'm not a member and probably wouldn't use their service to make it worth my while, but like others, I am sure we'd all appreciate it if you could print. TIA

      2. f
        Frosty Melon (was Chowderhead)

        This is my grandmother's recipe, which she made year after year. It's the quintessential shortbread recipe, for me anyway. And look - it uses softened butter.

        Scottish Shortbread

        1 lb butter
        1 c superfine sugar
        1 egg
        4 c sifted flour

        Soften butter to room temp, add sugar and beat til lite in color. Add egg & mix well. Add flour gradually. Spread in 4 8" pans, make about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Bake 1hr at 250, turning pan after 1/2 hour. Cakes should be a lite golden brown.

        They are easy to make, but might take a few times before you get it right. They seem to turn out different each time and I remember grandmother would always say this year is really good or this year isn't so great.

        1. Just to throw another opinion into the mix......

          For the utlimate in tenderness, Alice Medrich argues for melting the butter, rather than substituting or adding other flours or starches or powdered sugar. The dough must then be chilled for at least 2 hours or overnight.

          1. Thank you for mentioning the cold butter shortbread. I had a recipie that I got from a magazine and have now lost. I could have sworn that it used cold butter however, all of the new shortbread recipies use softened butter. I would love the Cooks Illustrated recipie you are now using if you wouldn't mind sharing.

            1. I'm a believer in rice flour, too, but I do use softened butter. My recipe is from a little cookbook I bought in Scotland, many years ago

              Shortbread

              1/2 cup flour, sifted (I use pastry flour)
              1/4 cup rice flour
              1/4 cup superfine sugar
              pinch of salt
              1/2 cup butter, softened

              Combine flours, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Work in butter until dough has the consistency of shortcrust. Sprinkle board with rice flour. Turn dough onto board and knead until smooth. Divide into four portions and shape into small rounds. Place on greaseproof paper in a baking tin. Prick with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minutes, until cakes begin to brown slightly. Allow to cool in tin.