Shortbread has got to be one of the best British biscuits. In fact, I’m struggling to think of any near contenders that satisfy on every level as a simple piece of sweet, buttery shortbread. Even if I wasn’t Scottish and slightly biased towards my birthplace’s fine culinary exports, then I would still be passionate about this fine biscuit. The magic of shortbread is the sheer simplicity of only using three ingredients – butter, sugar and flour – to create something so utterly delicious. The texture should have a crumbly, almost sandy texture, with an indulgent rich buttery taste that melts in the mouth.
Shortbread has an interesting history that dates back to medieval times. It evolved from leftover bread dough that was twice-baked, sweetened and hardened in the oven to form a rusk. It doesn’t sound too appetising, does it? Thankfully butter eventually replaced the yeast and the tea-time treat that we know and love today was born.
The type and texture of the dry ingredients greatly influences the character of the biscuit. From researching many shortbread recipes, using plain flour – based on the traditional recipe – creates a biscuit similar to crunchy sweet shortcrust pastry; it’s good but not quite your perfect cup of tea accompaniment. Adding ground rice or fine semolina gives the shortbread a grainy, crumbly texture while corn flour gives a slightly denser texture.
Recipes also vary by using butter at room temperature or straight from the fridge. Using cold butter does make the dough easier to work with but it produces a flaky looser result, whereas I’m definitely looking for crumbly. To achieve the perfect texture it’s also really important not to overwork the dough or it will become tough, so knead gently to combine then either pat it into shape using your hands or use a rolling pin very lightly. Chill the dough in the fridge till hard so the biscuit doesn’t spread and cook too quickly in the oven. Cook on a low heat to achieve the perfect crunch and pale golden colour. For such a simple biscuit there’s a lot to consider and I haven’t even thought about what shape to make! Decisions, decisions.
I buy good quality Guernsey butter, which is an amazing deep yellow and is the stuff of James Martin’s dreams. I’m almost tempted to keep it traditional but I decide to make my shortbread with stem ginger, with extra ground ginger, as I love the spicy warmth. I can hardly wait for them to cool on the wire rack before tucking in. The biscuits turn out heavenly and, with a piping hot mug of tea, is a perfect elevenses treat. Joy!
120g butter, at room temperature
60g golden caster sugar
130g plain flour
40g rice flour
1.5 level tsp ground ginger
Pinch of fine sea salt
3 balls stem ginger, chopped
Demerera sugar, to finish
- Preheat oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2.
- Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl using a wooden spoon until light and fluffy.
- Sift in the flour, ground rice and ginger. Add the chopped ginger and a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter. Stir gently to combine then use your fingers to bring together and form a dough.
- Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and roll the dough into a sausage, about 5cm/2in in diameter. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes until hard.
- Cut into 1cm rounds and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment – ensure ensure the biscuits are not too close together.
- Bake for about 30 minutes until lightly golden. Leave for a few minutes then sprinkle with demerera sugar. Then using a spatula transfer onto a wire rack