Shortbread is a traditional Scottish pastry that is crumbly and of sand-like consistency because no water is used. Without water, the gluten in the flour particles does not create any cohesive structures thus yielding a sandy bread. Shortbread is normally made by pressing the dough into flat decorative shortbread molds or by placing the molded dough on a cookie sheet and then baking.
You can add 1 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract to the dough to flavor the cookies and use different molds to produce a variety of shapes. The butter should be at room temperature. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add flour, mix well, and knead thoroughly. The consistency of the dough will be sandy, and it is dependent on the amount of humidity in the butter, and the temperature of the butter. If the butter is too cold or too dry, the dough will not hold together for rolling with a rolling pin, but it can still hold together when pressed into a mold. If you don't have a mold, you can press the dough to a depth of 1/4 inch into a cake pan lined with waxed paper. Score the dough with a knife to be able to cut the shortbread into smaller pieces after baking.
Traditional Scottish short bread recipes vary in the proportion of flour and butter used. Recipes, like the one above, use twice more flour than butter by weight. Some recipes use a larger proportion of butter: 2 cups of flour (320 g) for 1/2 pound (230 g) of butter. Recipes with more butter produce dough that is more pliable and easier to roll out, although the dough may need to be chilled before it can be rolled out properly. Recipes with a lower proportion of butter are crumbly and better suited for molding. Flavoring agents, such as vanilla extract, contain water that binds the gluten in the flour to produce crispier shortbread. Variations of the recipe above, such as adding one tablespoon of sour cream, increase the moisture, improve workability of the dough, and produce crispy shortbread. The total amount of humidity in the ingredients determines whether the texture of the shortbread is crumbly or crispy.
Shape dough into cookies 1-1/2 inches (4 cm) in diameter and 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees F (175° C) until lightly browned.
Some recipes recommend using self-rising flour instead of plain flour, but this produces very salty shortbread because most self-rising flours have salt in addition to the sodium bicarbonate from baking powder.
The shortbread mold illustrated here has a plunger that makes it easy to release the molded cookie unto the baking sheet. Wooden molds have to be floured before use, and the mold has to be tapped firmly on the baking sheet to release the cookie.
Pecan Short Bread Cookies are a variation of the shortbread recipe. The fat source is half butter and half lard. Avoid using vegetable shortening which usually contains a large amount of trans fats from the hydrogenation process used to harden vegetable oils into shortening. Beat the butter, lard, and sugar until fluffy. Add the almond extract and the egg and continue beating. Mix in the flour and chopped pecans. The egg gives the dough greater cohesion. Without the egg, the dough will not hold together to form a ball. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees F (175° C) until lightly browned. Sprinkle the cookies with powdered sugar.
Pecan Short Bread Cookies - Ingredients:
The recipe for butter cookies is similar to short bread, but less flour is used and an egg is added to make the dough more fluid so that it can be extruded with a cookie press. Different shapes of cookies may be produced by switching the disks of the press.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190° C). Combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Using a spoon, stir in the flour until well mixed. Pack the dough into the cookie press. Fit with the desired design disc. Press the dough out onto ungreased baking sheets spacing the cookies 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. If desired, sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, or cardamom. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.