Post #623 The Shorter The Bread, The Better The Cookie

January 20, 2019 at 3:35 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #623 The Shorter The Bread, The Better The Cookie

Okay, so I bastardized the actually saying, but it gets the point across.  It’s really cold outside today.  Yeah, I know, it’s New England in January; it’s supposed to be cold outside any day.  But we’re riding out a snowstorm/icestorm right now.  Everything outside is white.  In our part of the storm, we didn’t get as much as we expected or planned for.  I might even have some wine left by the end of it.  Some friends north of us got hit with the brunt of it.  Their mailbox is buried and unseen.  Poor them.

I like to bake on snowy days.  It makes the storm seem less threatening when you’re cocooned by warmth and good aromas.  For some reason, I think of my mom on snowy days.  She grew up in a small town in upstate New York and her stories of life on their small farm are epic.  They had a large Irish family; her maiden name was McMartin.  Her childhood was during the Great Depression but she says they never noticed too much.  They were kids so they were always hungry anyway, and they roamed the woods and fields and always found something to munch on when they wanted it.

Even after her mother passed away and she and her sisters moved to Ohio to be raised by her oldest sister (who she taught us kids to call Granny much to Aunt T’s great disgust), she was still surrounded by snow in winter, and large family, and the economics of making do, and using the garden to stretch the food budget.

So they got good at making things that were good and filling and only needed two or three or four ingredients.  And if one was missing, the result was unexpected, different, and usually just as good.  She was the one who taught me to make brownies without cocoa that were fantastic.

One of her favorite cookies was shortbread cookies.  These are typical Scottish cookies, or biscuits as they are called there, and take very few ingredients.  The ingredients are those things typically found on a farm in good supply with other things added only when available.  They are primarily butter held together with a little sugar and a little flour.  Doesn’t sound like much, but boy are they good!

When we were kids, mom usually bought shortbread cookies.  It wasn’t until I started learning to cook that she started making them.  Once I learned how easy they were, I went nuts making them and adding to them.  Some of my experiments were successful, and a lot were not.  But we ate them all.

Shortbread is simple.  This is a basic recipe that makes two dozen.

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350.  Put the butter and 4-5 tablespoons of sugar into a large bowl.  On medium speed, mix sugar and butter until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.  Add flour and carefully mix.  If the dough is dry or crumbly, add 1-2 more tablespoons of softened butter.  Set the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out gently to 1/2 inch thickness.  Shape the cookies and place on ungreased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with leftover sugar.  Bake in oven for twenty minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for several minutes, then place on cooling rack until completely cooled.  Eat.

That’s it.  Two dozen cookies ready in half an hour.

Shortbread cookies are wonderful all by themselves.  The real magic of shortbread cookies lies in their versatility.  So much can be done with them!  You’re limited only by your imagination.

First, they can be shaped in any fashion.  You can do as I did and make squares.  You can use cookie cutters.  You can press into a round cake tin, then cut wedges while they’re warm.  Don’t try to cut them after they cool.  It won’t be pretty.  You can roll into a log, wrap it and chill it, then cut into thin rounds.  You can press into a baking sheet then cut rectangles in the warm cooked dough.  There’s no real “traditional” shape to shortbread.  Whatever you like is good.

Some bakers put a pattern of holes in the dough with a fork just prior to baking.  They say it helps to bake all the way through, and it looks pretty.  You can do this or not as you choose.

Decorating a shortbread cookie is like shaping them.  It’s entirely up to the baker.  You can ice them.  You can sprinkle them with sugar before or after baking.  You can dip the warm cookies in chocolate or other dipping sauce and let it set.  You can dip one end in chocolate.  You can dip in chocolate then roll in nuts or coconut.  You can spread with jam and top with another.  Sprinkle crushed peppermint candy over the top, or other kinds of candy.  Totally up to you.

BUT . . .

The flavors of a shortbread cookie can be anything.  Really.  It can be anything you like.  You can add flavor essences to make whatever you want.  If you add them, do so sparingly.  A little will go a long way.  You can add crushed nuts.  You can add herbs and spices.  You can add peanut butter, or other nut butters.  Just adjust the amount of butter to compensate.  You can use brown sugar instead of white sugar.  You can use powdered sugar.  Just be aware that when you add, subtract, or substitute ingredients, the finished product will be slightly altered.

And people do mess around with the basic recipe.  A lot.  I’ve see the amount of butter increased to a cup and a cup and a half.  I’ve seen a 1/2 cup of corn starch added to the flour.  I’ve seen a mix of flour, corn starch, and powdered sugar used.  I’ve always used the basic recipe I learned from mom.

Today, however, I did play around with it a little.  I took a cup of walnut pieces and put them in a ziplock bag and crushed them to very fine pieces.  I added them to the mix with the flour.  I added a scant half teaspoon of vanilla to compensate for the walnuts.  Then I sprinkled a tablespoon of sugar over the top.  And they taste great!!

Mom did one thing that I don’t usually because I don’t like result.  Traditionally, shortbread is supposed to be white or very light colored.  Mom would mix brown sugar and white sugar together and sprinkle over the top before baking.  It would turn into a caramel of sorts and be golden to dark brown.  Tasted good, but stuck to your teeth.

So, on a day when we’re stuck inside watching the icy white stuff fall, the house is filled with the scent of walnuts and vanilla baking, and our mouths are watering waiting for the cookies to cool.

And now we’ve had some.  They really are good.

As always,

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.