Mum loves shortbread, seriously. Other than mince pies she could eat shortbread everyday. In fact now that I know I can make it I should endeavour to make a shortbread trifle or cheesecake for her. I’m not so much a fan, there’s nothing not to like but I know it’s better to eat a couple and leave the rest to her…
Shortbread is a delicacy, Scottish shortbread was very hard to duplicate in my opinion because the delicate balance of light, fluffy texture with a semi-flaky outer and crumbly inner and balancing that with enough sweetness and butteriness and the melt in the mouth effect. We’ve tasted many brands over the years, vegan and non-vegan and that authentic Scottish style is hard to come by with many brands falling ‘short’ in some way usually sacrificing one characteristic for another e.g. too hard, dry, not sweet enough, not buttery enough, not crumbly enough, doesn’t melt in the mouth etc. The sad thing is on the occasions we found a brand that we liked they’d discontinue the product! So finally, with some trepidation we decided to make our own!
Remember that shortbread is a firm biscuit not a cake or soft biscuit 🙂 It’s traditionally made from one part white sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour (so have a scale handy because one cup of butter doesn’t weigh the same as a cup of sugar or flour). It’s supposed to be sweet and buttery so not one for dieters.
I’ve seen a lot of recipes and read a lot of ingredients lists on packets and barely any of them seem to satisfy me because through comparing my memories of the taste I suspected that part of the ‘secret’ of shortbread is in using many types of flour (approx 4-5 types, all purpose could work though White or Brown by itself wouldn’t be enough and wholemeal by itself would be too coarse) and in the method of preparation before cooking. This isn’t like regular cookies and biscuits, blending the dry ingredients and adding the wet or mixing all together won’t get the original taste or texture. Also cooking straight away won’t get the gradiented crumbly texture. The difference/reaction between cold and hot temperatures is needed here too imo.
1 cup dairy-free ‘butter’/’margarine’
1/2 cup unrefined sugar & caster if desired
1 1/2 cups of flour
A little of the butter to lightly coat/grease the mould/baking tray
Remember there are many different types of flour:
White, Whole wheat, Rye, Spelt, Corn, Oat, Rice, Brown Rice, Chickpea/Gram/Besan, Barley, Coconut, Potato, Tapioca, Soya, Sorghum, Einkorn, Millet, Maize, Almond, Atta (good for Indian baking), Soda, Buckwheat, Hemp, Quinoa, Sesame, Khorason/Kamut (delicious Iranian flour), garbanzo bean, fava bean etc.
All have different characteristics, some are gluten free and some work best in different cooking/dishes but many go well together. I used a mix of Whole wheat, Rice, Malted Barley and Corn flour. I had wanted to add soya too but I hadn’t gotten round to drying out the okara or the thick bit leftover from soy milk making yet and that takes a while.
Notes on the sugar: typically White sugar is used but I prefer:
1st choice Golden sugar & Golden caster for coating,
2nd choice demerara,
3rd choice light muscovado.
I picked these because a) they are healthier b) they are light in colour c) Golden sugar over the other two as it’s sweeter.
I haven’t listed regaular/dark muscovado or molasses because a) dark in colour b) muscovado isn’t that sweet but I listed the light one as an absolute backup and c) molasses might melt too easily rather than add to the crumbly texture.
Note on salt: IF you’re going to use salt for cooking purposes try sea salt over rock or Himalayan as you’ll only need the tiniest amount (a sprinkle – much less than a teaspoon) and Himalayan is very strong in taste. I wouldn’t recommend bicarbonate of soda due to the rising effect. Remember not to use a coarse version.
1. Blend butter til creamy with a hand mixer or whisk as it will come out better than using a spoon/fork but a spoon is fine.
The ‘olive spread’ is an alternative butter, the olive is very subtle so it tastes like normal butter too. I didn’t have any sunflower or soya.
2. Add sugar – blend in fully.
3. Gently stir in flour – pour in whilst stirring to from the ‘dough’, it’s not really a dough as it’s so buttery but remember keep stirring, when you think it’s done keep stirring, if you think you’re arm’s going to fall off keep stirring (joking of course). The air needs to get in throughought.
4. Leave to settle and cool in fridge for 20min.
5. Coat the baking tray lightly with butter or oil.
6. Preheat oven to 170C / 325F / Gas Mark 3
7. This ‘dough’ is not for rolling. Either use a mould (which is better) or scoop out little balls (I whirled the shape with a spoon and knife for a rose-like shape but if I make them again I’d probably flatten them more) approx 1/2 inch thick – most shortbread I’ve seen is quite thick.
8. Bake for 20min or just until it looks ‘cooked’ but not too Gold or Brown (remember shortbread is pale)
9. Leave to cool on a rack – the longer you leave it the firmer they will be e.g. 20-25min. (Caster sugar can be added to the top whilst they cool.)
Unfortunately I don’t have any pretty presentational photos of the end result, I had a nice plate ready and a well lit spot for them but when I came back after having waited for them to cool I’d found them all eaten bar two (how kind of them to leave me some…) I was gobsmacked, slightly pissed but mostly very happy because after I gave one as an offering to the fire (cooker) and the animals outside I ate the other for tasting sake and!!! I did it! Now I’m rarely proud of myself, but I bloody did it! One of life’s cooking mysteries that has eluded so many and I damned well bloody did it in one try Ha HA! Making authentic tasting shortbread is an achievement! Ok that’s enough of that but even mum was approving of the result and she was ready not to be beforehand… She said she could have eaten the whole lot. These were sweet, buttery, crumbly and melty with the textured yet soft coarseness throughout and slightly flaky on top even I wanted more and I usually am able to say no after a couple maximum.