Being Scottish, shortbread has always been a part of my life. My mother always made shortbread in fingers (small rectangles) with the distinctive fork tine imprints. Scots are renowned for having a sweet tooth and shortbread is probably the simplest satisfier of it.
Shortbread is a combination of 3 parts flour to 2 parts butter to 1 part sugar. The key is to have the best ingredients – a flour that is not too soft, butter that is fresh and slightly salted and sugar that is not too fine. Or so it is said. The best shortbread is buttery and crispy/crumbly.
My mother, true to tradition, made shortbread for every New Year’s Eve. She had to adapt her recipe to the flour that was available in Canada but stayed true to the basic recipe. She probably made it at other times too but I remember more the platters with shortbread and mince pies at New Year’s. My Aunt Janet (my mother’s sister) told me that my mother was renowned for her pastry making. So by extension shortbread would have been a snap to make. My Aunt Christine (my father’s sister) is an amazing baker of all Scottish pastries (shortbread, cookies, pies, etc.).
I had to make my own way in the art of baking but would love to have sessions with my Aunts to find out the true techniques. I don’t get much opportunity to bake these days but I decided to give Stem Ginger Shortbread a go. Instead of kneading in the stem ginger, I pulsed it in at the end of the food processor step – this resulted in a mild evenly distributed ginger flavour rather than little hits of ginger in the shortbread. Not bad for a 1st attempt I would say.
Stem Ginger Shortbread
Makes 24 fingers
250 g (9 oz) all-purpose flour
85 g (3 oz) sugar
170 g (6 oz) butter, at room temperature
5 mL (1 tsp) ground ginger
4 pieces preserved stem ginger, chopped into pea-sized pieces
15 mL (1 Tbsp) cassonade (Demerara or other cane sugar)
Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F).
Place flour, sugar, butter and ground ginger in a food processor and process until the mixture is thoroughly combined and forms a ball of dough*. Knead in the chopped stem ginger; press shortbread mixture into a 20 cm x 20 cm (8” x 8”) baking pan; level with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Score top of pressed dough into 24 small rectangles and poke evenly over the surface with a fork. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for about 30-40 minutes or until the shortbread is a pale golden colour. Allow the shortbread to cool in the pan for a few minutes; cut into 24 fingers. Carefully remove from pan when completely cooled to avoid breaking the pieces.
Shortbread can be stored in an airtight tin for about a week.
* This can also be done by hand: Cream together butter and sugar then work in the flour to form a ball of dough.