I remember the first time I tasted Shortbread, my grandmother opened a package and gasped- ‘Oh! Tea Biscuits!’ Imagine my surprise when there were no biscuits inside! Mimi told what sounded like an exotic tale about real shortbread; she said the young Queen Elizabeth liked Scottish Shortbread served with Afternoon Tea! Small Square Shortbread in a distinctive red plaid tin was a delicacy to my grandmother- who didn’t waste time making cookies of any sort that I recall- with the occasional Southern Tea Cakes which are a totally different thing in the South. If Tea Cakes aren’t baked just right they ‘stick in your craw’ -they’re heavy and tend to have baking powder in them. However, fine Southern bakers did make Sweet Tea Biscuits or Butter Cookies which are interchangeable with traditional and variations of Shortbread.
Without a doubt, Shortbread is my favorite cookie- it’s not too sweet, it’s rich and it lends itself to shapes and variations. Pecan Shortbread is wonderful and has a distinctly Southern flavor, add Orange Zest to Shortbread dough and it’s elevated to new heights, the plain dough can be iced, sugared or dipped in chocolate. Filled with jam- strawberry, apricot or raspberry between shortbread and it even has a name… Linzer Cookies, which could often be found on Southern Tea Tables. Cut into the traditional squares, triangles or rectangles or my favorite rounds, cut like little Scottie Dogs and hearts of different sizes are sweet too. Savory Shortbreads are wonderful as well, but then I’m getting off on a tangent…
Shortbread is a great choice throughout the year, though I tend to make it for the Winter Holidays because it is rich in butter. The truth is- add an extra cup of sugar, another stick of butter and 6 eggs, why you’d have Pound Cake batter! Shortbread is just that rich! The dough can be made in batches and put in the freezer for at least two months. If you make the dough now you’ll have plenty throughout the Holidays. Baked off fresh, Shortbread will mellow and keep for a good while in airtight tins. Packaged up, Shortbread is great for small favors or gifts. Here’s how we make it:
Camellia’s Cottage Shortbread
- 3 sticks of salted butter – room temperature
- 1 cup of sugar – * we call it pure cane sugar, y’all
- 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups of sifted all purpose flour
*Southerners tend to use salted butter, if you use unsalted add a pinch or two of salt to dry ingredients. *Also have on hand a tablespoon or two of granulated sugar to sprinkle cookies warm from the oven.
- Method: In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together- do not overbeat! Add vanilla and blend.
- Add all purpose flour to butter/sugar mixture just until a soft dough starts to come together. Scrape and dump dough onto a piece of lightly floured parchment paper or plastic wrap, using a piece of plastic wrap, pat dough into a round. Wrap well and chill.
- *At this point, you may want to freeze the dough for future use.
- If using right away- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Roll chilled dough 1/2 inch thick and cut in desired shapes. *For decorative purposes, use a bamboo skewer to poke holes in the dough.*You may need to keep portions of the dough chilled throughout this process.
- Bake at 350 degrees on parchment lined ungreased pans for 20 minutes. If cookies are larger you may add up to 5 minutes longer. When cookies are warm sprinkle with sugar, unless you intend to glaze or fill.
- Cool completely. Yield approximately 2-3 dozen, varies according to size and shape.
No matter if you make Shortbread for gifts, to round out Holiday Dessert Tables or to serve with coffee or tea for drop in guests- one thing’s for sure… it’s always delicious! Love y’all, Camellia*All photographs are obviously mine. *The little plaid tins of Shortbread are made by Walker’s® and can be found, literally, around the world.