OK, now that you have all recovered from the shock. I am headed to Pittsburgh tomorrow (actually this will be published after I leave so I am there now but let’s not confuse things, shall we?) and I wanted to take some food. First we are staying with my Great Aunt Blanche in Wheeling and then we are headed on to John’s aunt and uncle’s place in Pittsburgh. Because it will involve more than one day of traveling with the food, I needed something that would keep well. And also something that would not seem too weird to leave with a widowed older lady living alone, albeit one with a sweet tooth–in which case an entire bundt cake just seemed odd to me. So I thought cookies–the sandy textured, crumbly, last forever kind. Also, much like that Double Chocolate Peppermint Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake that I *had* to make after not being able to over the holidays, I have not been able to get shortbread off my mind. I always make Scottish shortbread at Christmas and this year, like many other dishes, I was unable to. So shortbread it was. On a whim I included a citrus variation, see below, and a chocolate sable, which I will share later.
Our backyard!!! The weather has gotten warmer, the mud has dried up (actually it is muddy again already–but as of last weekend it was dry), allowing easy access to the entire yard. And so we finally went exploring. We crossed the creek, we have no idea where our property ends, the dogs found a swimming hole, the kids and I found a baby frog (!!) and the girls sat near the creekbed and got muddy playing with rocks for what felt like forever. Oh yeah, and we got lost and came up out of the creek in someone else’s backyard. That was a tad embarrassing, but I know why it happened now so it should not happen again–the creek winds a lot and I forgot to take this into account when heading out at a “straight” perpendicular angle from it.
In a word, it’s fantastic. The real deal–or at least as far as I know, not being Scottish nor having a family tradition of shortbread. It is a Carole Walter recipe and others I have tried have not come close. It is a little fussy with repeated bakings and it is messy, but it is not difficult and the end result is so worth it. At Christmastime, the kids and I use red and green sanding sugar on it–in honor of spring, we used an icy springtime blue this time (and peach on the orange variation).
For the citrus variation, simply blitz your sugar with the zest from 2 oranges in a food processor, then proceed with the recipe as written. The pictures of the Citrus Shortbread–the larger squares–were baked in a special shortbread pan that caused them to brown. I am still trying to find a good way to use the pan–the imprints are not too strong as you can see in the picture up above; truthfully I prefer the simple rectangles in some ways, although mine never come out even (yes I know I need to buy a ruler).
1 3/4 cups (220 g) AP flour
1/2 cup rice flour, spooned in and leveled
1/4 t fine sea salt
1 cups (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened (I used European butter this time–wow–but it works with either)
1/2 cup superfine sugar
sanding sugar for sprinkling
Position the baking shelf in the middle rack and preheat the oven to 300 F. Line a 9 inch square baking pan with foil.
Sift the flour, rice flour and salt 3 times (I use a sieve and go back and forth between 2 large bowls). Set aside.
Cream the butter on medium low speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar gradually, taking about 1 minute. Scrape the sides down as needed and mix until it is completely blended and creamy.
On low speed add half of the flour mixture and mix just until there is no dry flour visible. It may look a little crumbly at this point. Clean and dry a work surface. Dump some of the flour mixture onto the surface and dump the mixed dough on top of that. Working in batches and using your hands, gradually mix in all of the flour, kneading it JUST until it is smooth–do not overwork, but the dough should come together and knead. It reminds me of scone dough.
Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan, making sure that it is pressed into the corners. Test for evenness by inserting a toothpick at several points. Prick the dough evenly all over with a fork (not strictly necessary but it looks traditional–I did not for the citrus dough in the fancy pan).
Using a ruler (ha!) and a pastry scraper, cut straight down through the dough in a grid pattern. Sprinkle with sanding sugar and return to the oven for 10 more minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Then gently and carefully lift the ends of the foil* to transfer the shortbread to a cookie sheet. There, you want to gently pull the cookies apart so that they each have space around them. Return to the oven for 10 minutes to dry the cookies out. Remove and let cool on the pan on a cooling rack.
*If you are using a pan like the shortbread pan, very carefully and gently invert the pan over the cookie sheet. You may need to tap gently to get the cookies to release onto the pan. Then separate the cookies and proceed with the recipe as written.