Saturday, January 16, 2010

shortbread in january

Shortbread – good, crisp, buttery shortbread – is appropriate all year long.

Besides being especially good in January and December, it also hits the spot in June. I know this because I taste-tested shortbread all around Scotland one June.

In every bed and breakfast, there was what I have christened a tea spot in our room. It was often in a corner – two mugs set out with a tea bag and a packet of shortbread.

I would see if my new husband might be interested in going for a run by himself? And then I’d pull out my book and settle into a chair with a cup of tea and the packet of shortbread.

It was traditional wheat shortbread, so I could eat the whole packet by myself and not feel guilty.

But my poor, poor husband. I would explain in great detail how good the shortbread was, but he could only imagine.

This year, I decided I couldn’t let another Christmas go by without making shortbread cookies we could both eat.

I was surprised to find lots of recipes on the Internet, all with the same general theme: cornstarch, rice flour, icing sugar, butter.

I made a couple tweaks and present you with these: good, crisp and buttery.

Best eaten in the afternoon with a cup of tea.


bakes 24 wee cookies

A few notes:
Use brown rice flour in order to give them a healthy glow. Shortbread may not have much colour, but you don’t want it to look anemic.
For a different texture, you could substitute half regular sugar for icing sugar. I like using all icing sugar because the rice flour already gives it a bit of a crunch.

1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup icing or confectioner’s sugar
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 tsp. xanthan or guar gum
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter
berry, caster or superfine sugar to sprinkle on top

Prepare a cookie sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.

Stir the cornstarch, icing sugar, brown rice flour, xanthan gum and salt together to form one flour.
Cut the butter into 6 or 8 pieces and drop in the bowl. Mix either with a pastry blender and your hands, or in a stand mixer till it all holds together. This might take a bit of time, but it will start clumping.

Shape into 1-inch balls and place on the baking sheet, at least 1.5 inches apart. Press down with a fork slightly to make a nice, fat patty. (You may need to dip the fork in cornstarch periodically to keep it from sticking.) Use the tine tips of the fork to prick a little design on each cookie top. Scatter a bit of berry sugar over each cookie.

Chill for at least 15 minutes. (This will help them keep their shape, although they will still spread.)

Turn the oven on to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bake the cookies about 20 minutes, until the edges have just the tiniest hint of colour. Don’t overbake!

Leave the cookies on the pan, but place the pan on a rack. These cookies are too delicate to move until they have cooled and set.