A Simple Butter Shortbread | Scottish-style

It’s me again with another post for those doing the holiday baking!

Nothing says end-of-year festive season like a box of shortbread. And given that Chinese New Year is also coming up, I’d say it is the perfect time for some butter shortbread.

I’ve done quite a few bake sales on shortbread boxes with a whole variation of flavours, textures, shapes and sizes, both low and high effort products. But nothing is as scary as a simple plain classic item.

There is really nothing to hide behind with this. No flavours to mask imperfections, no add-ins of nuts or chocolate to affect the textural bite. It is straight up what it is. Simple.

And because it is such a classic item, everyone would already have a favourite go-to recipe. One that they have scoured the net for and fell in love with over the years, or one that has been passed down from your grandmother in a hidden secret recipe book never to be shared with the world.

Going up against nostalgia and personal preference is always a tough one so here I am humbly sharing this recipe and my learnings with you.

Even till this very moment where I am sharing this recipe, I am not 100% happy with it but I am happy enough to share it. I am still searching for my ideal one (which might be an impossibility for me because what I like changes from time to time) and hopefully I’ll find it one day.

What gave me the confidence to share this recipe was when I had brought a box of shortbread (along with other cookies) into the office, and everyone went for the cookies first (naturally) with the shortbread being the slightly unnoticed flying under-the-radar cousin. And when my friend picked up a piece and took a bite of it and exclaimed, “omg, this is the best shortbread I have had” and she didn’t think she would care about it because it was just a shortbread but ended up loving it, that made me feel a lot better about this recipe.

Heaps better.

Waaaaay better, because honestly right after filming the video, I was still 50-50 about sharing it.

The testing of this recipe all started because I have been asked to share a shortbread recipe, but honestly, there is a whole world of shortbreads in all variations, and so I went to my childhood fav supermarket shortbread brand ‘Walkers’ as my benchmark.

This had me going off to the supermarket to purchase a packet of walkers shortbread for the first time in years and the flavour was pretty much as I remembered it being for the most part. Probably did not love it as much as when I was a kid, but I still enjoyed it.

After doing a bunch of testing, I started to divert away from the Walkers shortbread. Apart from the shape and size of this resembling said Scottish brand shortbread, everything else is based off what I personally prefer in a shortbread

So without further ado, here is my short explanation of the type of shortbread I am sharing along with my usual slightly lengthy notes.

This shortbread is buttery but not oily, it retains it’s milky butter notes with a light snap as you bite into it followed by a slightly sandy texture that you would expect out of such a shortbread, yet with a gentle melt in your mouth consistency at the same time.

The shortbread is best eaten at least 24hrs after it has been baked. When dunk in cup of coffee, this biscuit shines at its best as the heat from the coffee gently melts the butter and brings forth the addictive aroma of butter.

Now let’s get onto the notes for this recipe shall we?

The Butter

I mean, this recipe is simple because of the minimal ingredients, effort it takes to make the dough and time it takes to toss it into one bowl and mix it up.

But because of that, the choice of the ingredients used is very important to me.

And this is where good quality butter will shine through. I am not asking you to go out and buy the fanciest butter to make this with (I actually am :P), but I would say to use a good quality butter.

I recommend testing the recipe once with a decent quality butter to see if you like the recipe, and if you do like this recipe, then please go and get yourself a butter that you would happily smear a chunk onto your sourdough bread and engorge on because your butter will carry this recipe to the next level.

What I mean by decent quality butter is one that has a butterfat percentage of 82%. When you look at the nutritional label, it should at least have “fat per 100g: 82g”

This is not a case of more fat the better the quality (because it isn’t just that), but rather the higher the fat content the lower the moisture level (which in turn affects how it bakes and the final texture).

Another thing is that using a better than average butter as your control will allow to tell the difference the different types of butter have on your baked products. Trust me, I have tried quite a few with varying results depending on the brand

The brand I am using in this video and for my test as the control is Western Star unsalted butter. It has a fat content of 82.9% and is a cultured butter.

But just because the fat is higher, it doesn’t mean the flavour is better.

This is where the next bit comes in.

For me, a good quality butter that I like to bake with would be something like Isigny St Mere, or Echire. The aroma it imparts as it bakes and the flavour of the cultured milk in the butter is just lovely. I am not saying to go out of your way to find these types of butter, but it does make a difference.

I need to also mention that I recommend doing a smaller test batch first as every butter is different and will result in a different outcome, when I bake with Isigny using this recipe, it tends to spread more as it seems to have a higher water content. To combat that I would reduce the milk by a tad bit (5g).

Also, if using a salted butter, do not forget to reduce the salt in the recipe. You might even have to drop it by half.

Flavour and Texture

Without getting into too much detail on the effects of fat in the dough, I would say to keep in mind that using a butter with higher fat percentage will result in one with more of a melting texture, and ones with more water in it might in turn create something that is a little more structured.

In this section however I would like to talk about the overall texture and flavour that I like in my shortbread.

As mentioned above, I like my shortbread to retain the original milky flavour of the butter as much as possible, and this comes about from the bake temperature and timing which we will touch on below.

For that melt in the mouth texture, there is a touch of corn starch in there, but to reduce the “powdery” texture that can happen in such a low moisture item, I have also added some liquid to help hydrate the flour.

The Salt

And one other thing that I really wanted to emphasize in this recipe is the flavour of the salt and what it brings to it. You might think that I have added quite a bit of salt, but the salt is key to ensuring that the shortbread doesn’t turn out bland and one dimensional tasting only of sugar. I would say, think of it as the difference between unsalted and salted butter. Isn’t salted butter lovelier to eat than unsalted? πŸ˜‰

Start off with 4g if you are concern and have a taste of the butter sugar mix (before you add the corn starch etc) and increase it to 6g if you feel it will be fine. I personally like 6g but you are welcome to play with the seasoning in this.

To also retain the slight sandy texture of how shortbread breaks apart when you bite into it without it just being a one tone “melty” consistency when you sink your teeth into it, I placed my focus for this on the choice of sugar.

Sugar

There are all sorts of sugars to choose from when it comes to baking, and regular granulated white sugar is usually the go-to for most when you think of baking shortbreads.

But even within the family of white sugars, you have things like pearl sugar, sanding sugar, granulated white sugar, caster sugar, icing sugar etc.

So why did I choose caster sugar?

I mentioned above that I wanted a slight sandy texture to the shortbread.

This meant that using icing sugar would be out of the list for me because it usually tends to give you a uniform lovely tender melting crumb.

Regular white sugar it the most common one but I found the granules imparts too much of that “sandy” texture due to how large each granule was and how it baked up.

Caster sugar on the other hand gave me that in-between, not too much not too little texture.

There is no reason why you can’t use regular white sugar or icing sugar, but I just thought it would be worth the mention.

Flour

Choice of flour here that I went with was cake flour. In this instance the one I am using is 8.5% protein level.

The lower protein level the more tender the crumb will be.

The addition on corn starch here is to make that crumb even softer.

The cornstarch acts as a further binding agent whilst introducing that melt in your mouth texture from it’s lack of gluten structure and finely milled consistency.

To combat the risk of having a shortbread that will leave you with a powdery aftertaste in your mouth, I have added in a touch of milk to help with hydrating the dough and the long bake time to ensure that it is properly baked is also important.

Making the Dough

Unlike some of the shortbreads where air is beaten into the butter, I like my Scottish style shortbread to have that slightly dense bite to it.

As such, you will notice that I haven’t actually beaten air into the butter, you are really just ensuring the butter is soft and at a spreadable consistency. We do not want tiny pockets of air in this dough as it will end up making it too light for my preference.

With the way we are making it, you will get the light crumbling texture around the edges as the shortbread spreads, with the middle retaining a slightly denser bite.

After that, all you are doing is mixing the eggs in, adding the corn starch in followed by the rest of the wet ingredients and flour last.

I like using fine salt as it allows for more even distribution of salt through the dough, it is nice to get those pockets of salinity when eating the shortbread without it being too in-your-face with punches of salt.

The corn starch is added in before the flour to ensure that the corn starch is fully dispersed into the dough and gets first dibs at absorbing the milk in the dough.

Cake flour goes in last and you really just want to ensure it has come together cohesively after some mixing.

The dough might seem really soft, but fear not it will bake up fine.

Another thing that you will noticed in the instructions is the fact that it asks you to mix the dough a few more times once you no longer see any flour. This is just to help bind the dough a little better together so it holds together a little better. You are not looking to knead it too much as you do not want a tough shortbread.

Shaping and Slicing

I personally like rolling the dough out at this stage because I have some guides which makes life easy for me. But if you are not using any guides, I would recommend chilling the dough for an hour before rolling it to ensure it is easier to handle.

Once rolled out, you just need to slice it to the size mentioned in the recipe and docking it with a fork to allow for more of an even bake with the heat being able to pass through the middle of the shortbread. Do not skip on poking those shortbreads with your fork. And of course, the size affects the bake time, so do not forget to test your bake times if you end up changing up the sizes of the shortbreads from what was suggested in the recipe.

You might also be wondering why I do not bake it as a slab in a pan as most recipes would call for and then slicing it there after.

I have tried it a few times during my tests and whilst it does keep a really lovely shape, I find that it doesn’t bake up as evenly as them being sliced and then baked separately. You could definitely bake it as a slab for an extended period of time, but proceed at your own risk as it does change the texture of the shortbread.

If baking as a slab, I recommend slicing it to the size you want before baking and then slicing it once more oven the areas you did prior to baking when it is hot out of the oven and still warm and easy to cut as it will start to break once it cools. (and definitely give the dough some good stabs with a fork before baking to allow for a more even bake through the middle and to prevent puffing).

Baking it – Times, Temp, Tools

The Nights and Results

Note: If you are looking for visual examples, please check out my video for more information on the different bakes and results πŸ™‚

This shortbread is something that can be baked off immediately after it has been sliced and has had a chance to firm up in the fridge which can happen whilst you are preheating your oven.

But personally I find that they do fair a little better after a night’s rest in the fridge before baking.

But oddly enough, leaving it in the fridge for 2 nights/48hrs makes the dough worse not better. I find that the dough gets too dry and leaves a slight powdery aftertaste post bake.

And probably more annoying thing is that the shortbread tastes better after leaving it to sit overnight post bake where the moisture and flavours have been given sufficient time to mingle together in your container.

Overall, the dough itself is really easy to make but it is mostly a waiting game

So essentially, this is my schedule:

  • Day 1: Make Dough
  • Day 2: Bake dough
  • Day 3 onwards: Eat them

You could simplify it to:

  • Day 1: Make and bake dough
  • Day 2 onwards: Eat them

Temperature and Flavour

When it comes to temperature, you will notice that I baked them at a really low temperature.

This is because I like accentuate the milky butter flavour of the shortbreads and prefer a bite that isn’t too crisp.

When baked at the lower temperature, it allows for the shortbreads to slowly bake through without caramelising the fat and sugars in them and thus retaining more of the original milky aroma. This is merely a personal preference on taste and texture so feel free to play around with the bake times to your liking.

At the 140C bake they tend to have more of a snap and toasted flavour to the shortbreads.

If you want something inbetween what I have and the 140C dark bake you could always start off by baking them at 140C for 10 mins before dropping the temp down to 120C to finish off baking them through.

Ultimately you want to be sure that these are well baked through for that dry snap, as you do not want a doughy center and to ensure that the corn starch has baked off its powdery texture as mentioned previously.

The different bake times and temps done in the video:

  • Same day bake: 120C – 70 mins
  • Control: 120C – 70mins
  • Dark Bake: 140C – 35mins
  • From frozen: 120C – 75mins
  • Silicone mat: 120C – 70mins

Tools

There isn’t anything too specific with the tools that I have used in this recipe.

I have some plastic pieces that are 1.2cm which is the thickness of the shortbread that I am making in this recipe, but you can roll it out without the aid of any rulers, just be sure you dough is refrigerated as it is easier to handle.

Some alternative suggestions to the rulers that I have would be using wooden dowels from the hardware shops, or anything that might be at that thickness.

Storage

My recommended suggestion is to store it in an airtight container. Usually shortbreads are stored in a tin as it allows for airflow which helps keep them dry. But if you are living in a humid country, the opposite might happen instead. So when in doubt, go with an airtight container. πŸ˜‰

Now lets get onto the recipe bit shall we?

A Simple Butter Shortbread

Makes 31 pieces 2cm x 6cm in size

What you’ll need

  • 230g cake flour (8.5% protein)
  • 40g corn starch
  • 180g unsalted butter (82% butterfat min. see notes above), soft
  • 20g full cream milk
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 4-6g fine sea salt (see notes above on salt)
  • 2tsp vanilla extract

Making it!

Before beginning, ensure that your butter is soft.

Use your spatula to rub/spread the butter to get it nice and smooth.

Add the sugar and salt and mix it in, you are not looking to incorporate air, but it just ensure that it is evenly mixed.

Sift in the cornstarch and mix it in.

Add the milk and vanilla extract in and mix until incorporated.

Sift in the cake flour and fold the ingredients until combined.

Give it a few good turns with the spatula once you no longer see any flour streaks to ensure that all the flour is mixed in and to help the dough hold together a little better. You are not looking to knead it, you just want to mix it 5-10 more strokes once you no longer see flour.

Note: At this stage you can wrap it up with a cling wrap and refrigerate/freeze it until it is firm enough to handle before rolling it out. If refrigerating, 1hr will be a safe time, otherwise 30mins in the freezer should be plenty. Just check on the dough mid way as time varies depending on your fridge/freezer

In the video I flip the steps and go straight into rolling them out before refrigerating them because I have my rulers and it is always easier to roll a soft dough out. But this is a really soft dough, so if you do not have any guides I recommend refrigerating it otherwise it will be too hard to handle.

Roll your dough out to 1.2cm thick. If your dough is cold, you can proceed to slicing them into 2cm x 6cm pieces. Poke each piece with a fork 2-4 times to allow for even baking.

Place the sliced dough back into the fridge and let it rest overnight. (see notes above or video on freezing and how to bake it immediately).

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 120C fan forced.

Place the shortbread on a baking tray lined with baking paper leaving some space between each shortbread to allow air to flow between them and to allow for spread.

Bake on the middle rack for 70mins.

Let cool on tray for 5mins before transferring to the cooling rack to cool fully.

Store in a airtight container. Consumed within 3 days.

But honestly, these will last at room temp for up to 2 weeks stored in a cool and dry place. But I haven’t actually done any lab test or anything beyond eating it and letting my eyes and stomach be the judge πŸ˜› You could store it for even longer but I haven’t tried them beyond 2 weeks.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Shelly Lin says:

    Hi~ I love all your recipes and thank you so much for all the detailed instructions. Do have one question when we are rolling it out. Do you mean 1.2 mm or 1.2cm? Because in the photos it looks kind of thick, but I am not sure if that’s puff up post bake or something else.

    Like

    1. 1.2cm
      Sorry about it! Will make the change now

      Like

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