These buttery crunchy/tender cookies, made only from flour, butter, and sugar, owe their deliciousness to the quality of the butter. So be sure to use the best you can find. Fortunately, many European Style butters are available in our supermarkets: Plugra, Kerry Gold, and Strauss, for example, and they have higher butterfat contents (85 percent in some cases) than conventional brands such as Land O’Lakes (80 percent). And what the butter tastes like depends on what the cows were eating.
Cammie Mitchell Hinshaw, a member of our family, is a third generation Scot who learned how to make classic Scottish Shortbread from her grandmother, Gertrude. And now Cammie has taught me what she learned. To make the dough, Cammie says, “My grandmother mashed the sugar into the butter—salted, not unsalted—with her hands, then worked in the flour.”
Cammie also mixes the dough by hand, squishing all the ingredients together in a large bowl until they gather into a firm mass. Many shortbread recipes substitute rice flour for a portion of the wheat flour to give the cookies a tender crunch. I like what rice flour does, so I added some. Here’s where you can read more about rice flour and British Shortbread.
Just for the heck of it, I decided to mix the dough with a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater to see what would happen. Here’s the recipe. I’m giving weights and cup measurements. And I’ve included salt because I used unsalted butter. Omit it if using salted butter.
When baked thick, shortbread’s texture is decidedly different compared with thinner versions. Cammie rolls out her shortbread dough ¼-inch-thick and stamps out cookies. Her shortbread is crunchy. I wanted a shortbread that had a range of textures, and I reasoned that I’d be able to achieve that with a thicker shortbread. Often shortbread is baked in special molds or in pie plates. I used a 9-inch one made of ovenproof glass. The bottom diameter of my plate is 7 inches—perfect for shortbread that is ¾-inch-thick. When freshly baked, thick shortbread is tender and slightly chewy, with just a hint of crunch. You can actually eat it on a plate with a fork. Serve with hot tea.
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 ounces)
¾ cup white rice flour (4 ounces)
½ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (4 ounces)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into large pieces
Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Have ready an ungreased 9-inch ovenproof pie plate. To measure the all-purpose flour, dip dry measures into the flour container, fill to overflowing, and level off. To measure the rice flour, set dry measures on a piece of waxed paper, pour the flour into them to overflowing, and sweep off excess. Combine both flours, sugar, and salt in the mixer bowl. Add the butter pieces and attach the flat beater.
Bake 60 to 70 minutes, or until the shortbread is an even pale sandy color. It should not be darker than a very pale brown. The edge of the shortbread may be slightly raised. The center will seem soft. The fork marks will have disappeared.