I have eaten Scottish shortbread every Christmas of my life. Most years, I have helped make it, beginning early in my childhood. It was a yearly family tradition, passed down from my Scottish grandmother. My father supervised. He was a warm, genial man who didn’t have much interest in his ethnic heritage—except for shortbread. The ingredients are simple, but the method—and the outcome—are unique. As he would intone: “We are not making Lorna Doones!”
This is the first time I have written out a recipe. By my family’s standards, this would be a very small batch. But it is easy to manage, and suitable for solo and/or inexperienced bakers. My family would quadruple the quantities and gather everyone around the table for some serious communal kneading!
Mr. Kilpatrick’s Firm, Fine, and Very Traditional Scottish Shortbread.
3 ½ C. sifted flour (for added crispness, you can replace up to ½ C. with semolina or rice flour)
¼ t. salt
1 C. butter, softened
½ C. white sugar
Lots more flour for kneading
Take off your rings and put them in a safe place. Scrub your hands well. Set out a wooden pastry board or scrub a wooden tabletop. Do not even think about using a food processor or mixer.
Sift flour with salt and set aside.
Put the butter on the pastry board (or, if you insist, into a very large bowl) and knead with your hands until it is soft and squishes through your fingers. Gradually work in the sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the flour little by little. Keep adding flour—as much as the mixture will absorb. Remember: The secret to firm, tasty shortbread is long kneading. We are not making tender little cookies for Americans!
You can stop when the dough is warm and smooth as satin, with no sugar grains remaining. This will take a long time, even if you have extra pairs of hands helping. Count on twenty or thirty minutes, at least.
Place the dough in an ungreased rectangular pan or on a baking sheet. Pat to a thickness of ½ inch. Prick the dough with a fork. Chill for about a half hour. Bake at 325 degrees until dough is a pale sandy color and the shortbread feels firm. This will take about 25 minutes. You may need to lower the heat and bake for a longer period. Remember: we want a hard, dry, buttery cube that offers significant resistance to the tooth!
Cool in the pan for ten minutes then cut into squares. Let cool before separating the pieces. When completely cool, pack into metal tins with layers separated by paper towels to draw out excess moisture. It’s best when aged for a month, so try to make the shortbread at Thanksgiving. It keeps for a long time, possibly until the next Christmas.
Serve with eggnog or port. It's the last step in our Christmas Eve ritual, before we go to bed.
P.S. Last December, I wrote a blog post about winter baking and my ethnic roots. No recipes in that one, but you can read more about Scottish shortbread and also about potica, the traditional Slovenian holiday bread. (Now that's a challenging recipe! Maybe I'll post it next year.)
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders