I always say, if you’re going to have a cookie, then have a cookie. A proper cookie. One that has all the qualities you are craving in a cookie of your desire – soft and chewy, crumbly or crunchy or buttery. Have the flavour and type you like – chocolate-chip, oatmeal, raisin, almond or shortbread. Have a cookie and get it over with. Live a little.
Personally, I am not a cookie lover but I like to make them for friends who like cookies. Last week I bumped into one of my good friends, Paula, and she was telling me about some shortbread butter cookies she bought a couple of weeks ago at a supermarket but when she returned the following day to get more they were gone. The poor thing lamented that she’d only gotten one packet because too often the promised butter and crispness advertised on the package rarely delivered. Now she had found some that hit the spot for her and her husband and they’d all been sold out. She looked so forlorn that I reached out and touched her shoulder. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll make you some shortbread cookies. I have a recipe for coconut shortbread cookies in my book”. She immediately brightened when I said I’d make her the cookies but without skipping a beat and struggling not to sound ungrateful, she pointedly told me that she did not want any coconut shortbread cookies. “I want the pure shortbread butter cookies. I want them really buttery and rich.” I guess I had my orders.
Shortbread cookies are also known as Scottish shortbread. It is a type of cookie/biscuit – the word meaning the same thing depending on which side of the isle you’re from. They are different from regular sugar cookies in a few ways. Shortbread cookies have more butter and less sugar. This means that they are not as sweet as sugar cookies. Shortbread cookies are made with essentially 3 ingredients – sugar, butter and flour, they do not have in other ingredients such as eggs, flavours, extracts/essences, salt or leavening agents such as baking powder, all of which can be found in sugar cookies. Due to the ingredient-make-up, these two cookies are different in taste and texture. Shortbread cookies are drier and firmer when cooked and have a crumbly-crunchy texture, whereby, sugar cookies tend to be tender, moist and chewy.
The true and real star of a shortbread cookie is the butter. You have to be able to taste and smell that rich butter flavour, and given that there are so few other ingredients this is the time to ensure that you choose the best quality butter. Using salted or unsalted butter impacts on the taste too so that should always be taken into consideration when making the cookies. Unsalted butter is considered to be sweet butter so this is ideal. Salted buttter varies in its saltiness hence my caution. The ingredients for traditional shortbread cookies are made with a 1 – 2 – 3 ratio (by weight). In other words, it is 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour. Going by weight it would be:
● 4 ounces white sugar (1 part)
● 8 ounces butter (2 parts)
● 12 ounces flour (3 parts)
Get it? You can change up the quantities as long as the ratio is 1 – 2 – 3. Here’s another example with the amounts changed:
● 8 ounces white sugar (1 part)
● 16 ounces/1 lb butter (2 parts)
● 24 ounces/1 ½ pounds flour (3 parts)
The shortbread cookie purists will also tell you that the cookie is not usually cut before being baked. Traditionally, the dough is pressed into a baking pan, baked, and then cut into wedges. I wanted to make it that way – one big shortbread then cut into wedges – but I know my friend Paula would have raised her perfectly arched eyebrows in question, so I didn’t. However, I did want to give some extra oomph in the flavour department so I added a splash of vanilla essence, the zest of two limes and 2 pinches of salt.
I made the cookies on Sunday evening and Paula arrived the next day to pick them up. Being fearless I asked her to taste it to see if it met with her standards and what she was looking for in a buttery shortbread cookie. She ate one, said nothing, and then ate another one. “Did you put something lemony in the cookies?” she asked. I told her about the lime zest. “Nice! I love them.” Just in case you are wondering… Paula is the kind of person that would have politely said something if the cookies did not satisfy her taste. Suddenly the phone rang; it was her husband. I heard one side of the conversation: “I am by Cynthia. Yes, she made the thing! I’m coming home soon.” And off she went with her more than 2-dozen shortbread butter cookies.
Next week I’ll share with you a recipe for Tea Time Butter Cookies that the family of Mrs Urmia Cummings shared with me.
Have a great weekend.