Monday, December 11, 2006

Shortbread Traditions

When I was growing up my mother always made Shortbread using the family recipe, handed down by her mother. It was shortbread the way it "should" be, three simple ingredients, butter, berry sugar, and flour. I believed in that recipe. I defended it as the best shortbread there was. Until I got married.

My husband grew up knowing shortbread from a different recipe, the one from the "Canada Cornstarch" box. We each thought "our" shortbread was the best. The good natured argument went on for a bit until one Christmas early in our marriage I decided to have a side by side "taste test". I made both recipes and we voted for our favorite. We both liked the cornstarch recipe the best so from that point on it was the one I used, except for one important modification. I made it larger. The recipe on the box only makes 2 dozen. Are they serious? That wouldn't last one evening around this house! Besides I kind of liked the way my grandmother's recipe used up the whole pound of butter.

So here's my adaptation of the cornstarch recipe. I've "super-sized" it so that it takes a whole pound of butter and makes about 5 dozen cookies and I've also simplified the mixing method.

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Using an electric mixer, cream together one pound of (room temperature) butter, 1 1/3 cups of icing sugar and 1 1/3 cups of corn starch. Gradually add 3 cups of flour. Turn out onto a lightly floured board/countertop and knead until well blended. Roll out 1/4 inch thick and cut with cookie cutters. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees F. for 15 - 20 minutes until just the outside edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.
The recipe itself has not been my only break with tradition. My mom used a medium sized cookie cutter with a wavy edge (like the cookies on the left). When I got married I could not find the same kind of cookie cutter and had to substitute the flower-ish shape on the right. For years I searched for a cookie cutter like my mom's so that I could have shortbread the way it "should" be. Finally last year I found one. In the meantime my own children have grown up with shortbread made with the flower-ish cutter --- the ones on the right.

A few days ago my married daughter mentioned that she had made a batch of shortbread. She was complaining that it didn't look the way it "should". You see, she can't find a cookie cutter with "bumps" like mine. All she has is a cookie cutter with a wavy edge. Bwahaha! Bumpy or wavy, there is one thing we both agree on: Shortbread must have three rows of fork pricks to look "right". Left plain they look naked, or blind, or somethin'.

I guess traditions are whatever you get used to.

Incidentally, I believe my mother has abandoned her mother's recipe and now makes whipped shortbread.


Lauri said...

I'll have to try your recipe! It sounds really good! Shortbread is one of my favorites

dragon knitter said...

i haven't made any holiday cookies, but this really tempts me. and i have a ton of butter in the freezer, as i bought it on sale. mmmmmm shortbread.

and what is berry sugar?

Romi said...

Yum! Thank you so much! My mother used to make shortbread when I was growing up and the recipe was lost among her things when she died. Yay! I'm gonna have shortbread! Wooooo!

Marlene said...

Minnie, berry sugar looks a lot like regular granulated white sugar, except it is finer. Here in BC it is sold in a small cardboard box like salt. Although I no longer buy it for the older shortbread recipe, I do occasionally have it on hand for "Snowballs" which is another family tradition. You wrap about a tablespoon of shortbread dough around a well drained marachino cherry, roll it in berry sugar, and then bake at 300 degrees F. for 30 minutes.

Lauri and Romi Christmas around here requires at least a couple of batches of shortbread, a couple dozen cherry tarts, and a large pan of buttertart squares. I don't save it all to put out only on Christmas day or only when there are guests like some families do. During the month of December any time I bake it is holiday recipes which are then available for bag lunches or snacking.

Marlene said...

Isabelle, (from your comment left on an earlier post).

I defer to your Scottish heritage. Your shortbread would clearly be more traditional in the true sense of the word. But, as I found out from my experience with my daughter, FAMILY traditions stem from whatever you grew up with.

I bet "caster sugar" is very similar to what I know as "berry sugar". Cornstarch is a corn based flour of a very powdery talcum powder. It is often used as a thickener for gravy or pies.