Seventeen years ago, my friend Stephanie began a Burns‘ night celebration, in honor of her Scottish heritage, and we carry it on still, an occasion to gather a group, once all in Cleveland but now half dispersed. We tour the highlands, as it were, and I address the haggis— “Fair fa your honest soncie face/Great chieftan o’ the puddin race” —thrusting the knife in at the appropriate “warm-reeking” moment. But Stephanie had arrived as well with her grandmother’s shortbread, and the book from which it comes. Having coincidentally been making various versions of shortbread for a current project, I was particularly interested in hers.
Shortbread is the simplest of preparations, flour, butter and sugar and in that simplicity is its deliciousness. Also, it couldn’t be easier or faster. Boxed pancake mix takes longer. Shortbread to me is all about the flavor of the butter. So use good stuff. I prefer salted butter here to enhance the flavor.
The recipe comes from The Edinburgh Book of Plain Cookery Recipes, originally published in 1920 and passed from mother to daughter twice now. I’m comforted by the fact that the recipe in the book is in weights. (It also happens to be the basic 321 cookie ratio.) Stephanie sends it to friends in volumes. Both work fine in these small quantities.
Scottish Shortbread, straight from the book:
4 oz. flour
2 oz. rice flour
4 oz. butter
2 oz. castor (granulated) sugar
Sieve the flour, rice flour, and sugar into a basin; add the butter, and work all together with the hand until the consistency of a short crust. Form into a round cake either with the hand on a pastry board or in a shortbread mould. Place the cake on a greased and papered tin, prick it well, and bake it in a good steady oven till beginning to colour; then moderate the heat, and allow it to crisp off slowly for about one hour.
Americanized, motorized and essentially doubled:
1-1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rice flour
8 ounces butter
1/2 cup sugar
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer, paddle until the dough clumps together, press in to 1 or 2 cake pans (I like 1 for thicker shortbread, Stepahnie uses 2 8-inch pans). Prick with a fork to decorate if you wish. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly browned. Cut into appropriate sized pieces while it’s still warm, and allow to cool completely before remove it from the pans.