Figgy, Lemon Shortbread (and my longing for the summer to begin)


figgy lemon shortbread 1

I am ready for the summer to begin… or at least the spring! What’s with the hail and icy winds in Coventry… in May?!? Waaah! Where’s the sun?

So here I’ve baked a little something to try and remind myself of the summer: figgy, lemon shortbread.

Figs and lemons remind me of the mediterranean and the sun. I ate an abundance of both when I was in Turkey. It must have been the right season or something. And last summer, my friends and I picked sun-ripened figs on the sea-side town of Baynuls-sur-Mer, and snacked on the delicious fruits the entire week that we were there. To be honest, I think that Jenny tired of them towards the end, but Sarah and I couldn’t get enough of them. Unless you grow the figs yourself, I’ve yet to buy fresh figs in the UK that taste remotely like the sun-ripened variety.

figs in baynulsfigs in baynuls 1

There’s a couple of lemon and fig cookie recipes out there, but I’ve yet to come across any recipes that combine the two together in a shortbread. When I was thinking up with this recipe, I toyed with the idea of adding another flavour to it, like cardoman or black pepper. I didn’t add any this time round, but I rather like the idea of experimenting with some finely-chopped fresh rosemary or dried lavender. Having baked and tested them out on my students and colleagues, I think that the two flavours work rather well together in a shortbread. The flavours aren’t overpowering and the end result is a bit more of a delicate, crumble/melt-in-your-mouth experience. It’s really interesting asking my colleagues for their feedback on what flavour hits them first, the lemon or the fig. The consensus is that it’s a rather subjective experience.

So, let’s get on with this recipe. It’s a really easy one to make. Two things to prep the night before. 1. Take out the butter so that it’s soft. 2. Put the figs in a bowl and cover with some water so that they’re plumped up. I adapted Fiona’s shortbread recipe, to come up with my own figgy, lemon shortbread. This time I substituted some of the cornflour for semolina. I was improvising, to be honest, because I ran out of cornflour in the middle of measuring out the ingredients. But why semolina? A friend of mine had mentioned the use of semolina in a shortbread before, so it wasn’t an entirely new idea. I thought that it would add a bit of bite and crunch to the shortbread and I think, I think, I think that it does. Give it a go and tell me what you think.

Top tip: When it comes to making shortbread, use real butter and always take it out the fridge the night before to soften. If you try and cheat to soften the butter by zapping it in the microwave and causing it to melt, you’ll affect the baking process. The end result is a biscuit that splays out all over the place when it’s baking in the oven giving it a harder, brittle texture.

Ingredients for my Figgy, Lemon Shortbread. I used 5cm cutters and produced about 55 pieces of shortbread.

  • 250g salted butter, softened and cubed
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 100-115g chopped dried figs
  • 250g plain flour
  • 75g cornflour
  • 50g fine semolina (if you don’t have semolina then use cornflour, so in total you’re using 125g cornflour)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F/ gas mark 3. Line a few metal baking sheet with baking paper. Put the dried figs in a bowl and cover them with boiling water for at least 15 minutes to plump them up. I left them overnight and then chopped them up really finely with my pampered chef food chopper. I think that you could experiment with how finely (or not) you’d like your figs to be.

2. In a big bowl, cream together the sugar and the butter, then add the lemon zest. Finally add in the chopped, dried figs. I use an electric mixer, but if you don’t have one, then beat it together with a wooden spoon.

figgy lemon shortbread 2figgy lemon shortbread 3

3. Measure out the flour, cornflour and semolina in another bowl. Then sift the dry ingredients into the sugar and butter in 4 batches. I add it in batches to make sure that the flour doesn’t fly out the bowl. Combine well until it’s a sticky mixture.

4. At this point, it’s best to flour your hands before gently kneading the mixture until it is combined into a smooth texture. I forgot this bit and ended up with sticky fingers. It’s important not to overwork the mixture because it will make it a tougher, less crumbly biscuit. Once it has reached that just smooth texture, then wrap it up in a piece of clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will make it easier to roll out later.

5. Roll out the shortbread mixture on a floured worktop so that it’s about 0.5-1cm thick. I like to use a glass chopping board and have a large piece of clingfilm between my rolling pin and the mixture. I think that it makes it an altogether cleaner operation. No bits of dough sticking to the rolling pin, and less flour flying everywhere.

6. I then used 5cm round and daisy-shaped cutters to create my cookies. Maximise the space on the dough. Roll up what’s left and start again. I may be wrong, but I found that the biscuit is a bit tougher when I roll out the dough a second and third time. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve baked them in the oven for a bit longer accidentally or what… so I’ll keep comparing.

One of my colleagues asked me to bake a larger piece of shortbread next time… like you get on the pettitcoat tails. I’ll try another time and let you know how that turns out.

shortbread doughflower shortbreadfiggy lemon shortbread 3

7. Place them on sheets of greaseproof or baking paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, turning them round half-way through baking. They will be a light golden colour when they’re done, like the colour of golden caster sugar, rather than a darker brown, like the colour of demerara sugar. Take them out the oven and immediately sprinke some granulated or demerara sugar on them. Leave them to cool for a few minutes on the tray before transferring the shortbread onto a wire rack to cool completely. Put them in an airtight container and they’ll probably last 3-4 days. Monica assures me that they’ll keep for a month.

These ones that I baked have pretty much all gone within 24 hours. I took some freshly baked shortbread to my students to test it out on their discerning tastebuds. I don’t know whether they were just being nice, but here are their thoughts on the recipe:

“Perfect!”

“It’s like shortbread.” (10/10!)

“I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“They just melt in your mouth.”

“Maybe a bit more lemon and fig, but I like my biscuits to be really fruity.” – if you think that this would be you, then add a bit more lemon zest and try chopping the figs into bigger chunks to see whether that helps.

I await to hear your verdict.

figgy lemon shortbread 4

Fiona Cairn’s Shortbread

FionaCairnsShortbread

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.

Ingredients

  • 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.

Method

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).

shortbread_dough

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.

rolling out shortbreadcutting shortbreadcutting shortbread

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…

storing raw shortbreadshortbread hearts

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.

fiona cairns shortbread