Friday, December 9, 2011

The ancient gift of shortbread

In my experience, there is one present that is never put to the back of a cupboard, exchanged or re-gifted, and that is the gift of some home-made shortbread. Very few people can resist its sinful buttery crumble.

Shortbread it thought to have its origins before our time in medieval Scotland with a twice-baked biscuit bread made from left-over bread dough. This item was dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a sweet biscuit. Over time butter was substituted for the yeast. This created the crumbly (short) texture we know and love!

Butter and sugar however, were expensive items and shortbread was only eaten in most households as a luxury on very special occasions such as Christmas, Hogmanay (New Year's Eve) or weddings.

Nowadays, in our kitchen, we use an ancient Scottish secret family recipe (i.e. I copied it out of my Mum's recipe folder). Details can be found here.

The basis for all shortbread is three ingredients: flour, butter and sugar (usually in the ratio of 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, 3 parts flour). However, there are a number of different variations as you can see from this page in Lady Hackett's Household Guide (1940):

Plus a variety of flavourings can be added. According to an article by Camis Davis at, "Queen Victoria liked hers seasoned with salt; classic shortbread from the town of Goosnargh in Lancashire is flavored with coriander and caraway; shortbread from Pitcaithly, in Scotland, is made with orange peel and almonds; the Scottish baking company Walkers, founded in 1898, has a ginger version of it."

The shape is traditionally a round, often made by pressing the dough into a carved circular mold.  This creates triangular wedges which can be snapped apart.

We take a less traditional approach to the shape - creating Christmas-themed shapes such as angels, bells, trees and stars. However, call us old-fashioned, when it comes to flavourings we stick to making the unadulterated version.

Bagged up with the addition of a ribbon and gift tag, they made the perfect small item for my daughter to give to her school friends.

How much do you love shortbread?

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Gigi Ann said...

I must say, "I am not much of a shortbread lover." But the orange peel and almonds sounds rather delightful.

Mary said...

Oh my goodness I adore shortbread - and tend to only eat it at Christmas (having Scottish blood running through my veins helps).

I also traditionally make chocolate ginger and glade cherry cookies at this time of year.

Nanu said...

ECSTATICALLY – especially if the flour is two thirds plain wheat flour and one third rice flour. The latter gives it a slght grittiness which is lovely to crunch. I'm afraid shortbread is standard fare now there always being some in the cupboard "in case someone comes in". However, as with everything, there is shortbread and shortbread with a huge variety in between. Only the very best is good but personal taste comes into that HofNanu and I, for example, liking different ones best.