Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Highland Wedding Tradition - Shortbread.

My friend and housemate from Ballymaloe Cookery School, Katie, is getting married this Saturday.  I am absolutely bummed that I can't be there, so I wanted to research and dedicate a post to Katie and her groom, Nick, wishing them joy and happiness from their wedding day onwards.





Slushy stuff over, let's talk Scottish wedding traditions!  Of all the Scottish traditions I found that I could post on a family friendly blog such as this I discovered Shortbread.

Apparently, it was tradition that the bride would have shortbread broken over her head upon arrival back at the new marital home.  I can't find any suggestion of why, so if anybody knows then please tell.

Why is it called 'shortbread'?  Well, firstly it is short, as in crumbly due to the high amount of shortening or fat, in this case butter.  Think of 'shortcrust' pastry which is high in butter content and should also be crumbly.



But why 'bread'?  Most accounts have it that the original shortbread was indeed bread dough which was left over and then baked twice in the biscuit tradition with added sugar to make a sweetened and hard biscuit.

As time went on the bread was replaced by the simply flour, sugar and butter combination we know today.  This was of course more expensive and therefore reserved for special occasions such as weddings.


The rule of thumb for the quantities is 1:2:3.  Or 1 part sugar to 2 parts butter to 3 parts flour.  That's what I'm using here, but please adjust to your own taste.

If you research shortbread recipes you'll find a plethora of different quantities and ingredients.  Some call for plain flour only, others to mix in either cornflour, rice flour or semolina flour to bring an extra crunch.  A good pinch of sea salt brings an extra depth.


There do seem to be certain elements on which most people agree though.

  • Only 3 base ingredients?  Use good ones.  Decent caster sugar and good quality butter and flour.  
  • As it's short, don't work the dough.  It should be crumbly and melt in the mouth, overworking the dough will toughen it.  Bring it together quickly.
  • A short resting time in the fridge before baking helps the texture.
  • Shortbread should be pale so a low oven and longer cooking than more conventional biscuits.
  • There are 3 main shapes for shortbread.  The triangular petticoat tails, rectangular bars or a circular biscuit shape.


Here are 2 versions for you to try.  The first is using flour and cornflour while the second is using a flour and semolina flour mix.

Petticoat Tails

Ingredients

Cornflour

50g         Caster sugar + more for sprinkling
100g        Good quality softened butter
120g        Plain flour
30g          Cornflour
A pinch of good quality sea salt




Utensils

A mixing bowl
A wooden spoon
A 20cm removable metal cake tin base (Sides not needed, just the base)
A sharp knife
A fork

Method

Pre - heat your oven to 160 ° C conventional / 140 ° C fan.

Using the wooden spoon cream the butter and sugar in the mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Sieve the flour, cornflour and good pinch of sea salt into the butter and sugar and bring together completely but working the dough as little as possible.  It should be soft and malleable at this stage.

Using your hands work it quickly into a disc to fit on to the cake tin base.  

Flatten off with a rolling pin if you like but make sure it is of an even height to ensure even cooking.

Crimp the edges of the disc using your finger and thumb.

Using the sharp knife mark the disc into 8 equal segments and then make holes using the fork prongs.




Let it rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or so until firmed up.

Place into your pre - heated oven and bake for 40 minutes.

Sprinkle with extra caster sugar and immediately cut into segments before it cools.  As it's heavy on the butter it will feel soft and pliable when warm.  Allow to cool completely before eating so as to get that lovely short and crumbly texture.


Bars

Ingredients

Semolina Flour

50g         Caster sugar + more for sprinkling
100g        Good quality softened butter
120g        Plain flour
30g          Semolina Flour
A pinch of good quality sea salt

Utensils

A mixing bowl
A wooden spoon
A 20cm removable metal cake tin base (Sides not needed, just the base)
A sharp knife
A fork

Method

Pre - heat your oven to 160 ° C conventional / 140 ° C fan.

Using the wooden spoon cream the butter and sugar in the mixing bowl until light and fluffy.


Sieve the flour, cornflour and good pinch of sea salt into the butter and sugar and bring together completely but working the dough as little as possible.  It should be soft and malleable at this stage.

Using your hands work it quickly into a rectangle.  I did use a rolling pin here to really flatten it evenly  



Divide it into even rectangles wide enough to take the fork marks.


Let it rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or so until firmed up.






Place into your pre - heated oven and bake for 40 minutes.


Sprinkle with extra caster sugar and immediately cut into segments before it cools.  As it's heavy on the butter it will feel soft and pliable when warm.  Allow to cool completely before eating so as to get that lovely short and crumbly texture.

Enjoy these with a wee dram of decent highland whisky.




That's what I'll be doing on Saturday as I raise a glass to Katie and Nick.







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