If you knew my Scottish friend Deirdre Whittington, then you could probably hear her voice in your head as she gave the recipe instructions for making her national dish. Shortbread is a traditional Scottish biscuit that is made of only three ingredients in the strict ratio of 3:2:1 for the flour, butter and sugar. Her instructions included, “I usually use one pack of butter 250g. Work the rest out (If you can’t I am happy to talk you through it).” That’s the Maths teacher in her coming out in that last quote, and you’d better heed her instructions to the letter.
Of course, there exists many deviations from the original recipe, but if you want true Scottish shorties, it’s best to stick to this age-old formula. Unlike other forms of biscuits, it does not contain any leavening such as baking powder, or even eggs.
The trick to working with these ingredients is to be gentle and not overwork the dough so that the gluten does not form long strands and toughen the shortbread. But you’ve also got to work it enough so that the shortbread is not too crumbly.
I find that gathering small handfuls of dough and squeezing them lightly, then pressing them into a bigger lump allows me to form the dough to the right consistency.
Shortbread is traditionally formed into one of three shapes—fingers, rounds or petticoat tails, which are wedges cut from a large round disc after it comes out of the oven. For our shoot, we just shaped them into fingers and rounds, but you may cut them into any shape you wish. After shaping the shortbread you’d have to gather the off-cut pieces and roll them out again, so it is crucial that you handle the dough lightly to avoid overworking the gluten.
Unless you are able to correctly gauge how to roll out the dough to the desired thickness, I would use two chopsticks or wooden spoons to stop the rolling pin from pressing the dough any thinner. If cutting into fingers, try to cut them into rectangles of about 5 centimetres long by 2 centimetres wide, then prick the top with a fork. Or you can cut the dough into rounds with the rim of a glass tumbler, then make a smiley face with a chopstick and a small spoon.
Shortbread is often associated with Christmas and Hogmanay festival, but it is also reserved for special occasions such as weddings. It is delicious any time of the year, and especially decadent if dipped into melted chocolate.
With the 2020 Edinburgh Festival, which was usually held throughout the month of August, going virtual due to Covid-19, you may want to enjoy this arts extravaganza online while munching on your homemade Scottish shortbread.
- 750g all-purpose flour
- 500g unsalted butter
- 250g castor sugar
- Leave butter until soft and mix in sugar well.
- Add flour and mix until all gathered together.
- Roll out to about 1cm thick.
- Cut into fingers or shapes.
- Put in the oven at 180°C for about 12 to 15 minutes or until golden colour, not brown.
- Cool then box in the fridge preferably with a padlock.