As I shoved a Walkers Festive Shapes shortbread into my face today straight after lunch... I thought 'not as good as mine'. And then had a second.
The office is full of Walkers tins at the moment. We are doing them with colourful Christmas labels for our clients. It's a commercial version of what I do for my loved ones at Christmas: shortbread.
Printed labels make shit look legit, amirite! You get A4 labels from Officeworks, go to Jam Labelizer (Google), do your thang then print and cut out! Great for jams, relishes, bikkies, and heaps more. Colour laser printers produce a more 'waterproof' result than inkjet.
I've loved shortbread ever since forever, and every December (making anything where hard butter is required in 30+ degree temperatures is particularly crazy I think) I would ask for Mum's best recipe.
We tried loads of recipes together. Some with rice flour, some with caster sugar, some with vanilla, some without. I started experimenting with fun additives like craisins and pistachio, white chocolate and macadamia, dark chocolate and shredded coconut and my enduring favourite: Christmas Spice.
After 5 or so years pumping out several kilos of shortbread, I settled on 'Mrs Eagle's Recipe'. I.e. the recipe my Mum got from her good old friend Mrs. Eagle. It is straightforward and once you've made it, I swear you won't turn back.
Mrs. Eagle's Shortbread
250g stick of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of icing sugar
2 cups of plain flour
Yup, you read right. 3 ingredients. YOU'RE WELCOME.
Chop the cold butter into cubes. Either rub it in to the sugar and flour, or if you have a food processor, put the dough blade on and just blitz until you have either a ball of dough, or fine breadcrumbs. The regular blade on a food processor does work, but it's more likely that it'll melt the butter or overwork the dough. Pulsing is recommended.
Once you've got the dough to fine breadcrumb consistency, you should be able to bring that baby together into a ball of dough. Resist the urge to eat it all. You will suffer. This I have learnt the hard way. Okay I haven't eaten a whole batch of dough. But I have eaten a lot. #noshame
From here, either put the whole ball in glad wrap and chuck it in the fridge for 30 minutes (if you have fancy shapes you wanna cut from the rolled out dough) or roll the dough into sausages and fridget those wrapped in cling film. This way you can simply cut rounds from the sausage of dough and fork-press them into little round bikkies on the tray.
Anywho. Get the dough out of the fridge. Add any dried fruit, spices, nuts, chocolate, coconut or other bits and bobs you like. If you wanna roll it out to cut super cute shapes out, you're a better person than me. But here are some tips anyway. Put glad wrap down on the bench instead of flour. Put the dough on top. Lay more glad wrap on top. Roll away. If the dough is getting too warm, chuck it in the freezer for a few minutes. The shapes come out so much easier, and neater too. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion this makes them keep their shapes better in the oven.
If you're just doing balls, good on you. Either cut or break off bits of dough, roll them in your palms, whack 'em down on a baking-paper-lined tray, and fork press them to flatten slightly.
I have also done the following lazy-lady variations: Roll out the dough into a large, or two medium circles. Score dough as you would a round cake, cutting half way down, and pricking the dough with the prongs of a fork along each slice of shortbread. This will give it the traditional look. Alternatively you can roll out a rectangle of dough and score the shortbread into 'fingers', or rectangles. When the sheet of dough comes out of the oven you will re-score with a paring knife to ensure easy separation. The round ones make beautiful gifts wrapped up in cellophate. Like a plate of shortbread. What a blessing.
If you make it too neat, no one will believe you made them. True story.
Once you have a tray of biscuit dough arranged the way you like, pop them into a pre-heated oven at about 150 degrees. Shortbread that has no additives should be baked for 20-30 minutes at this low temp, or until a very pale golden colour. Sometimes they will look too blonde on top, but if you lift one carefully with a butter knife, you'll see it's a little darker on the bottom and is holding together well when it's cooked. They will harden upon cooling.
If you have chocolate, nuts or other bits and bobs in the cookies, I recommend cooking them a tad longer. Just helps the whole shebang stick together. Experiment with the timings, and see which effect you like the best.
Cool on trays for a few minutes, and then you can transfer to a wire cooling racks. If you don't have any, don't stress. I've cooled many a biscuit on a tray on top of the oven and had very few complaints.
Dust with icing sugar and eat with loved ones, and tea. Or coffee. Or an iced chocolate. Or champagne. Or glasses of cold milk. I'm not here to judge!
NOW! The pièce de résistance! Christmas Spice Shortbread:
Add pinches of ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and cardomom to your dough. Yup, like chai. Alternatively, pick your favourites from those 5 and go nuts. Even simply cinnamon elevates these shortbread to a higher plane of awesome. I recommend more of the spices you've used to a few tablespoons of caster sugar and sprinkling the mixure over the biscuits before you bake them. Delicious, crunchy, sugar and spice.