Being stuck at home during this COVID-19 crisis has got us all looking for creative ways to spend our time indoors. Even though I’m still working at the bakery, I’ve found myself with a lot more free time on my hands. I’ve been trying to experiment with things I’ve put off: making a sourdough starter, practicing laminated dough, and recipe testing new treats.
Before Milk + Honey started, this site was a food blog. I loved documenting my food adventures, particularly writing about food. I learned, however, that it’s fricken hard to keep up a food blog when it’s not your full time gig. Life took over and food blogging went out the window. All this quarantining has gotten me excited about getting back into writing, and more importantly, using writing to share the joy of baking with others. In this Quarantine Baking Series, I’ll be posting some easy recipes for those who are looking to pass time (and reap the reward of baked goods) or get into baking in general. I recognize that ingredients are hard to find at the stores right now so I’ll try my best to feature recipes that have the most basic of baking ingredients and don’t require specialty kitchen equipment.
When it comes to the most simple of recipes, the first thing that comes to mind is shortbread. All you need is 3 ingredients to make the most rudimentary (and traditional) version: flour, butter, and sugar. Chances are you’ve had this delicious, buttery cookie before. It melts in your mouth with a crumbly texture and slight sweetness. They keep for weeks, which is a huge plus when you’re hunkering down. They’re also endlessly customizable, a perfect starting point for experimentation.
A Brief History of Shortbread
Shortbread is a traditional Scottish biscuit. Sources say it may have been around as early as the 12th century, but it’s often attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century. Shortbread evolved from a medieval biscuit bread where any leftover bread dough was dried out in a low oven until hardened. Over time, the yeast in the bread was replaced by butter, and shortbread was born. It was a luxury back then and often eaten only during the holidays.
Brief Shortbread Baking Science
The crumbly, meltaway texture is due to the high fat content provided by the butter that inhibits the gluten formation from the flour. Since there’s no commercial leavening (baking powder/soda) in this cookie, the butter is what moistens the dough and keeps it together. There’s a slight “puffing” of the dough when baked due to the steam released from the butter, but it does not rise or spread much.
Makes approximately 30 2-inch cookies. Feel free to customize with the mix + match variations following the recipe.
- 2 cups (250g) all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cool room temp (around 65F)
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar or 1/4 cup granulated sugar (see note)
1. Place the butter, powdered sugar, salt, and any additional flavorings (see below) into the bowl of a stand mixer and cream until smooth, light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Alternatively, you can do this with a hand mixer.
2. Use a spatula to scrape down the bowl and add the flour and any nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate chips (if desired) and mix until just combined. Remove the dough, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days. The dough can be frozen up to 3 months (let thaw in refrigerator overnight).
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F. Roll out dough to ¼ inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 16-18 minutes until edges are just turning golden brown. Store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
4. If desired, these cookies can be glazed with a simple icing made from any liquid (fruit juices, milk, or even water) mixed with powdered sugar until the desired thickness is achieved. Use a spoon to drizzle icing onto cookies or dunk cookies into glaze. You can also drizzle/dip the shortbread in melted chocolate.
GF Variation: substitute flour with your favorite GF flour blend
Vegan Variation: substitute butter with your favorite vegan butter (I like Miyoko’s)
Mix + Match Additions:
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, sage, or herb of choice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or maple extract or extract of choice
- 1 Tbsp fresh citrus zest
- 1 Tbsp matcha powder, lavender, or tea leaves
- 4 Tbsp ground black sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup chopped nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or chocolate chips
My recipe calls for powdered sugar because the fineness of it enhances the meltaway texture. Totally fine if you use regular granulated sugar though. I’ve successfully used 1/4 cup powdered sugar for less sweet cookies or for more savory mix ins.