Monday, December 06, 2010

No Shortcuts

Every year, I join the many folk who prepare for the holidays by preparing baked treats. I would venture that most of us have family favorite recipes we are implored (or even ordered) to make.

For me, it's butterscotch pie (from a recipe my mother-in-law gave me) and pumpkin pie made the Pennsylvania Dutch way.

And, it is especially Scottish Shortbread. There are no shortcuts to making shortbread. This simple tasty treat is a hand-mix all the way kind of recipe.

I got the recipe years ago from my Aunt Arlene. I lived with my uncle Arthur (my dad's brother) and his wife Arlene while my parents were on their last term as missionaries. I wrote a bit about her
here--she was the aunt who urged me to buy the practical coat. While she could be abrupt and severe, she could also bake up a storm.

Every Christmas, she made wonderful shortbread. And one year, she taught me how. I have tried to teach various family members who are interested--it really is a teach by doing kind of recipe.

So, here goes.


The ingredients:
5 cups flour-take out 2 heaping tablespoons, replace with 2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup white sugar
Pinch of salt
3/4 pound of butter COLD from the frig

Slice butter into flour mix and work with hands until all flour disappears and it begins to stick together. Form a ball of dough in your hand, then break it apart. When it is thoroughly mixed, the dough will crumble into the size of small peas--

Put into a flat pan (I use one about 10 by 14)--

Press in very firmly and evenly--

Prick with a fork--

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes--

Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees and bake until it is the color of rich cream--

Remove from oven, sprinkle with sugar --

Cut immediately--

into pieces about an inch wide by three inches long--

Place in an airtight tin.
Now the terminology in the recipe is exactly as my aunt had written out the recipe. I can tell you from years of experience making shortbread that it takes about 10 minutes after reducing the oven heat for the shortbread to become the color of rich cream.
I love that description--the color of rich cream--but it assumes an experience few of us have had. When whole milk was delivered from house to house, the milk bottles would sit at the door, and the milk would slowly settle. By the time the housewife (most likely) brought the milk inside, it would have settled. And the rich cream--a pale yellow--would have been on top. If this ritual happened long ago, the cream would be skimmed off and used for special food preparation.
Sadly, today, our milk is put up in plastic bottles, and most of us are so far removed from its production we have no clue what color rich cream is.
I also like the detail of the dough crumbling into pieces the size of small peas. Maybe that's how you can recognize an authentic recipe--homey little details such as these.
If you are a pie dough whiz, I think you will do well at making shortbread.
But, don't take any shortcuts!
Apologies on the photo orientation--Blogger got very weird and would NOT let me rotate some of the photos for correct view.


Jayne said...

Oh Donna, that sounds (and looks) so yummy!!

Anonymous said...

Looks delish! I started making shortbread last year. This is the recipe I used:

Looks like Martha takes shortcuts. Oh well, it was easy and utterly delish! Thanks for showing how you do the pricking on top. I'll be baking a BUNCH this weekend -- it makes great teacher gifts! YUM! And, yes, I did dip the ends in chocolate.

Beverly said...

Oh, thanks for the recipe. I think I shall try this. I have a recipe handwritten by my mother on the back of an envelope.

Anvilcloud said...

Love shortbread. Would almost like to try this.

NCmountainwoman said...

We love shortbread around here. Not too sweet, melts in your mouth and so delicious. I've used only Martha Stewart's recipe. Perhaps I'll try yours this year.

Denise said...

I can attest to the fact that Donna’s shortbread is the BEST!

Climenheise said...

I second Denise's comment! Thank you, Donna!