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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shortbread short-comings

I love shortbread.  My favorite ones are the “Highlanders” and the orange chocolate covered ones from Walkers.  I am also always sneaking into Starbucks to buy a 2-packet one of their own Walkers version.  I then saw Martha Stewart baking it on “Martha Bakes”, and thought her recipe and technique were worth a try. 

The more powerful reason I definitely wanted to bake my own shortbread was the fact that I had found a very exclusive butter, imported from France, bearing the AOP label (Apellation d’Origine Protégée), at one of my local gourmet markets.  It is called Beurre d’Isigny, and I thought it a masterful element in the elaboration of exquisite shortbread, since butter is the main ingredient in the product – i.e. the better the butter, the better the result.

As simple as the recipe looked, it took me 3 tries to master it.  The problem laid with the measurements.  See, the Beurre d’Isigny shows its weight in grams – 250 for each log, equivalent to 8.8 ounces.  Martha’s recipes calls for 2 sticks of butter, or a cup (are 2 sticks really a cup?).  But of course the sticks she is referring to are American size.  The French version is sufficient with just 1 log of butter, minus a little less (the extra 0.8 ounce that the log carries). 

Due to all this confusion, the first time I tried the recipe I used 2 logs of butter, resulting in fabulous flavour… and a complete blob.  As soon as I pulled it out of the oven, it reminded me of the 60’s movie “The Blob”, only in a lighter colour.  The next time I tried it with only 1 log of the dreamy Beurre d’Isigny, plus a little more.  Still not good.  The final result came out too greasy and, although browned enough after 50 minutes in the oven, it seemed still a bit undercooked in the center.

Last weekend I tried it again.  And this time I subtracted the 0.8 ounce from 1 log.  After I had finished incorporating all the other ingredients it formed into a dough, and I knew that finally, I had mastered it.

Undoubtedly, the secret to outstanding shortbread lies in the quality of the butter used to make it.  So I encourage you to buy the best one you can find, plus the best vanilla extract you can afford (I use Penzeys’ Double Strength Madagascar Vanilla), and give it a go.  It makes for an excellent gift as well as a hostess’ treat.

Here is Martha’s recipe for traditional Scottish Shortbread, adapted to accommodate the exquisite French butter:


*      9-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom
*      Flavour-less non-stick cooking spray
*      8 oz. (almost 1 log) Beurre d’Isigny
*      ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
*      ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract (I suggest Penzeys’ Double Strength Madagascar Vanilla)
*      2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
*      Sanding sugar to spread on top.  Some very nice ones can be found at


It makes a wonderful gift, highly appreciated.
  1. Spray the 9-inch fluted pan with removable bottom with the non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar.  Stir in vanilla.  With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour.  Mix until well combined.
  3. Evenly spread the cookie dough into the prepared tart pan.  Refrigerate overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 326 degrees.  Sprinkle shortbread with sanding sugar.  Using the back side of a knife blade, score dough from the edge of the circle in the center toward the edge of the pan into 12 equal wedges.
  5. Transfer the tart pan to the oven and bake until light brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the shortbread comes out clean, about 50 minutes (but check it closely, as oven temperatures vary greatly).  Immediately re-score wedges with the back side of the knife blade.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour.  Remove shortbread from tart pan and let cool completely.  Cut into wedges with a serrated knife along the scored lines.
Nothing like shortbread with crema de cioccolatto
and refreshing smoothie for a cozy afternoon snack.