Have I told you before that I grew up in Scotland? Now that you know, then you’ll understand why baking the most delicious shortbread is on my list of baking to-dos. That taste and sensation of buttery biscuit crumbling in your mouth is, when you get it right, eye-poppingly delicious! Yet, it only made its appearance on my list very recently. As the name suggests, there’s a lot fat that goes into it (shortening, in its most generic sense, is any fat that is solid at room temperature) and that kinda put me off. However, I think that began to change when, firstly I tasted THE best shortbread ever two years ago and didn’t want to eat any other lesser tasting brand. Then I finally happened across a pretty convincing shortbread recipe in Fiona Cairn’s book.
The best shortbread, the one that changed things, is Duncan’s shortbread. (Incidentally they’re made in Deeside, Aberdeenshire, which is near the area where I grew up.) They are pretty much the perfect shortbread for me: crumbly and indulgent. However, they are pretty hard to track down in the supermarkets south of the border. So, when you’re next in Scotland, I’d recommend visiting any Morrisson’s supermarket and buying a packet so that you can delight in them too.
While I’m rating shop-bought shortbread, I’d recommend Dean’s shortbread too. They’re more widely available and were my favourite before I had a taste of Duncan’s. And how about Walkers shortbread? Everyone has tasted Walkers shortbread right? They’re everywhere with their tartan branding. I grew up eating them and asked my mum to bring to the US so that I could nibble on them whenever I wanted a taste of home. A classic but I find that they are too dense and aren’t crumbly enough.
I do try different brands but Duncan’s is the benchmark. If they don’t come close, then I don’t thing that they’re worth eating: shortbread is pretty calorific. So, I admit. I’ve become a bit of a shortbread snob. Now that I check out the ingredients list on the back of the packet to hunt down the perfect recipe, perhaps, we should modify that to ‘shortbread-snob-on-the-hunt-for-the-perfect-homemade-shortbread-recipe’. I’ve already tried searching for the Duncan’s recipe but it is a closely guarded family secret. It says so on their website. What I do find really interesting about Duncan’s is that they don’t use butter!! No, siree, on the backs of their packets, they list blended pure vegetable fat as their fat ingredient. Well, maybe they’re onto something since shortening is associated more with vegetable or animal fat, rather than butter.
But this blog post is about when I baked Fiona Cairn’s shortbread recipe and I have to say,
It trumps all the shop bought varieties.
My sister paid me the biggest compliment when she said that my shortbread was better than Duncan’s. (I asked her and her husband to do a taste test.)
This is such a fantastic recipe. I haven’t modified anything because it is, well, perfect just as it is. The only thing that I did was to halve the recipe because it looked like it was going to make an awfully big batch of shortbread, and I didn’t have enough freezer space…
Top Tip: use your favourite-tasting, best-est quality butter because the taste varies on the quality of the butter. Oh, and bake on baking paper, so that the baked shortbreads are easier to take off the baking tray.
Fiona Cairn’s Shortbread, from Fiona’s cookbook, Bake and Decorate, as baked by moi.
- 250g salted butter, softened and cubed.
- 100g golden caster sugar, plus some more for sprinkling post-baking
- 250g of plain flour
- 125g of cornflour or rice flour*
*Fiona included this gem of a detail that you could use either rice flour or cornflour, which gave it a crumbly texture, and her scottish grandmotherused rice flour. But do you know, cornflour is used in Duncan’s secret recipe, so no guesses for which one I opted for.
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F/ gas mark 3. Line a metal baking sheet with baking paper. I’m a BIG fan of pampered chef stoneware and normally use stoneware in baking. However, my friend, who has had some experience with baking shortbread, assures me that they taste better when baked on metal, rather than stone.
2. Cream together the butter and the sugar together first. You’ll get there fastest is if you use an electric whisk or mixer.
3. Then sift in the flour and cornflour and mix into the butter and sugar. I’d add the flours in three batches to stop the flour flying out of the bowl. Combine well until you get a sticky mixture.
4. Flour your hands so that the mixture doesn’t stick to your hands for this next step. In the mixing bowl, gently knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until it is smooth. (Fiona says ‘do not over-work’ – that doesn’t mean much for a non-experienced dough kneader such as I? So this was my guess).
5. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and pop it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will make the dough easier to roll out.
6. I floured a glass cutting board, but you can use any floured board, to roll out the dough evenly with a rolling pin. You want to aim for about 5-7mm thickness.
I quite like my method of rolling this kind of dough out with a piece of baking paper or clingfilm between the rolling pin and the dough. I find it’s cleaner this way and somehow, the dough mixture rolls out smoother and doesn’t stick to the rolling pin.
7. Cut out, roll out, repeat until you’ve used up all the mixture. I deliberately bought some really cute small-mini cutters to make this shortbread. Funnily, I just felt that I couldn’t make them until I had bought these cutters!
8. So, perhaps there are too many to bake in one go? No problemo – freeze them. Fiona recommends that you freeze them unbaked, so that you have a ready batch of these to bake whenever you want or need them. They just need to be defrosted for an hour before baking. Then, she includes this tip:
lay the biscuits between sheets of baking parchment in a freezer container.
which is absolute genius! So, you arrange the shortbread on a piece of baking paper and place it gently to fit the container, then you add the next layer of baking paper with the shortbread etc. This means that when you come to take them out to defrost, they are 1. easy to get out and 2. ready for you to put them on the baking tray for you to bake. Just remember to let them defrost for an hour…
9. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar, then let them cool for 10 minutes.
Tada! Careful you don’t demolish them all in one sitting.
You already know what my sister thinks of this recipe. I’ve also baked these as a birthday present for my friend Helen and for the Welcome Team at church, as a treat for visitors. They loved them. Blimey, if the rest of Fiona’s recipes are as good as this one, then we are in for a treat.