We’re always thrilled when our friend, Maggie Parkinson from Poulsbo, Washington sends us one of her original recipes. Maggie is a cookbook author and a writer who LOVES to cook. Fortunately for us, she also loves to share her recipes.*
Real REAL Scottish Shortbread
By Maggie Parkinson
Today, we’re going to talk about a cookie-in my view one of the world’s greatest cookies-and that is SHORTBREAD. It is the simplest of cookies and easy to make, but for me the buttery taste of shortbread is hard to beat.
I have been making the same version for thirty some years (yes, I keep telling you that I am “ancient grains!”).
I’ve mentioned in past pieces that I used to work in Information Technology-only when I started we simply called it “computing.” That career spanned many decades (sigh) and I’m a lot happier making cheese and knitting sweaters. As part of that effort I managed a group of delightful techno-nerds in far-away Scotland. They were busy hammering out code without much oversight from me BUT once every few weeks I had to go visit and check on them. That involved getting up in the middle of the night (or so it felt) – driving 20+ miles to London’s Heathrow airport, and catching a flight to Edinburgh. (I remember one day while crossing the parking lot, I walked with my head down between two posts and nearly knocked myself out cold on the sign between them-I’m NOT a morning person! I saw stars all the way there!). Once my plane hit the ground, I would get into a cab and the driver would chat away with me for 20 minutes or so without me understanding one word! Trust me local Scottish accents are really strong.
The software team in question worked out of a gorgeous old building – actually old enough to have been dubbed a PALACE. Actually DALKEITH PALACE and this is a fairly current photo:
So, then we’d meet away for several hours and at around 10:30 a nice lady would come into the conference room and leave a tray of coffee. ONE DAY she bought in cookies, too.
I took one bite and was blown away like a teenager who just got her first glimpse of (insert name of male teen idol here … I was rather enamored with Sean Connery myself-see ancient grains!).
Anyway, when we broke for lunch, I asked the lady who was now bustling in the cafeteria – where she got them. She had apparently made them that morning. So, I asked her how she made them, and she just waved some fingers in the air saying “THREE TWO ONE!” “Pardon” says I, which is a polite British way of saying “What?”
Three two one-she said again … Hmmm. So I asked her to elaborate and she expanded as follows:
“Three flour, two butter, one sugar.” I didn’t get a lot more detail than that but I am an intrepid explorer in the kitchen and armed with this data, I was determined to see if I could reproduce that wonderful shortbread experience.
In actual fact, what she was giving me was math-i.e, a ratio. That happy formula simply means that you need THREE ounces of flour, TWO ounces of butter and ONE ounce of sugar to make shortbread.
But, as that IS in fact just a ratio, it also happily applies itself to multiplication-(you didn’t know that this was going to be a math lesson, too-ha ha!).
SO, what I always use when making shortbread is SIX FOUR TWO and if you are cooking for a crowd you can make NINE SIX AND THREE. You will see shortly what the 6/4/2 batch looks like and – as this concoction has a long shelf life- you can cook giant batches if you are feeding the five thousand.
The MOST important part of fixing this recipe is undoubtedly THE BUTTER! A good many folk will stipulate in recipes that you must buy UNSALTED BUTTER for a dessert recipe like this. I just about NEVER buy unsalted butter anymore because most recipes call for a bit of salt anyway! So, I use salted butter for just about everything and usually reduce the salt in the recipe for sweet creations.
The next key to this recipe is THINKING AHEAD! You need room temperature butter to make this and NO you cannot hustle that up in your microwave! Been there-done that-made rubber shortbread and never lived it down. SHORT bread is the name – not Rubberbread so you need to make sure that you give the butter time to warm up. I try to get it out on the counter the night before and walk away from it. I will explain why there is a stick and a bit in my photo later!
Next let’s turn our attention to how you finish the shortbread-you can use shortbread molds-I don’t happen to have one of those-(unbelievable-something I don’t have for the kitchen and cooking!).
So, I do one of three things depending on the size of the batch I am making.
I use a MUFFIN TOP pan to make 6 big cookies.
I use a whoopie pie pan to make small cookies.
Note that I grease both these kinds of pans with the butter paper!
I use a small cookie sheet to just make a rectangular sheet of cookies if I’m being lazy.
Note that I have lined the cookie sheet with a silicon liner which I BOUGHT BY THE ROLL and can cut to size! Awesome! (I bought this from QVC but they don’t have it often! However at time of writing they have a seven piece set of silicon mats for the price of two! http://www.qvc.com/Cooks-Essentials-7-Piece-Silicone-Baking-Mat-Set.product.K44690.html?sc=SRCH (Please be advised that this link is very time sensitive!)
So, now we have a pan to bake our shortbread on or in, some soft butter and our ingredients ready – let’s get down to business!
Six oz All Purpose flour
A 4 oz stick butter
2 oz sugar (I usually use white granulated)
Now, for you All-American cheese makers and cooks extraordinaire, I bet you HAVE scales-whaaaaa? You don’t? Boo hiss! Cooking by weight is WEIGH more (sic) accurate than cooking by volume but –
as you are determined to cook with cups-I have done the conversion for you …
6 oz flour = 1 ¼ cups
1 stick butter
2 oz white sugar = ¼ cup plus half a tablespoon or 1 ½ teaspoons
Some more of my famous fuzzy photos-must have been at the cooking sherry again!
To begin – put the flour into a decent sized bowl.
Add the sugar and mix the two ingredients together.
Cut the butter into chunks and throw that on the top.
Now comes the mucky part!
All you have to do now is work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture can be squeezed into lumps. Here is where I have to make an important announcement! THIS IS NOT PASTRY!
You can get warm hands into this mixture and almost certainly you should – that helps to bring the mixture together. I start with a pastry blender or shown in this photo-a flat whisk. Actually, I will be finding the pastry blender in future but, in any case, cut away until your mixture is crumbly.
If you want to rub the butter into flakes between thumb and forefingers you can.
You should end up with something that looks like this.
Now, get really aggressive and start balling the mixture up in your hands … it won’t easily come together, but you can make it clumpy and that’s what you want.
You will yearn to add some liquid, but DON’T! It will end up looking like this …
Now, it’s time to grab your chosen pan and push the mixture into the forms. This amount makes six large MUFFIN TOP sized cookies and eleven Whoopie Pie sized cookies.
The whole point about these two photos is you can see that the mixture doesn’t look like any cookie you ever made, but that’s OK!
You can also see that I am plopping the mixture in equal portions into my forms and pushing it down hard with my fingertips.
If you are going to cook the mixture on a cookie sheet, just drop it onto the pan liner and bring it together in a cool shape. I usually do mine in a rectangle, patting it down hard and bringing the edges in with the side of my hands until it is all an even thickness and tidy.
NOW put a knife through it, scoring it into even sized cookies-you can’t really do that well after it is crisp!
Now, put your pan into a pre-warmed 375F oven and hover over it – it does not take many minutes to bake these and they burn quite easily. Some of my shortbread cookie fans like them a bit brown but I like them just golden. It’s fast-about seven minutes but I’ve never timed it accurately-my nose tells me that they’re done and so will yours-the smell is divine! I suppose a big hooter of a nose has SOME advantages? Anyhow, typically they will be a little browner around the edges.
IF you are a chocoholic – at this point put about ten chocolate chips on each small cookie and sing-you won’t get many bars into it before the chocolate melts and you can spread them over the cookie.
They are really GOOD plain so I recommend you try both.
One more thing kiddos! I just made a tiny no-bake cheesecake for a friendly dessert and I used the extra (I made a 12-8-4 batch) to line a cake tin at the bottom-instead of the graham cracker crust thingy!
Pre-bake before you do this!
What I have documented today is pure and good BUT I have started adding about another half a tablespoon of butter recently and hence the second nub of butter in the photo. I THINK it is a bit SHORTER – i.e. more crumbly/delicious without that-but it does come together a bit more easily.
You can try both and see which you like best?
By the way, my DOC (he takes care of my wonky thyroid) got a sample- he has been buying a certain famous name shortbread from a British company for years for his family at Christmas. He doesn’t anymore!
You might want to put crossed wooden spoons on the floor and dance over them when you sample these? AND as always– thanks for reading.
* About the author:
Maggie Parkinson is the author of the low-carb cookbook: Carb-Less in Seattle. We did an interview with her in 2013 (click here). Since then, she has moved from Renton to Poulsbo, Washington where she and her husband (The Pirate) built a beautiful home with gardens and an orchard.
She has given us several fabulous (original!) recipes including:
Pizza, Saag Panir
Pear & Fig Bread
Easy Bechamel Sauce
Macaroni & Cheese
Stretching the Waistband of Your Food Budget
Leftovers-Waste Not/Want Not So Much
Souped-Up Soup with Maggie Parkinson
Her expertise as a cook makes her tips invaluable to us and we hope you enjoy them as much as we do.