The French Are Involved in Everything
As often happens with an amazing invention, culinary or otherwise, the French are hovering close by. This appears to be the case with one of the best cookies ever invented, shortbread.
Here is the legend: The French who were at court with Mary Queen of Scots influenced the cuisine served at that time, and it is then that shortbread came into its own as the buttery, yummy cake it is today. Before their influence, the cake wasn’t the same. The French association makes sense; most things associated with butter lean to the French in some way or another.
Shortbread Even Before the French
But before the French got involved, shortbread existed throughout the British Isles. It was originally the leavings of yeast bread dough that were shaped and dried out in the oven into a sort of cracker. Gradually, it morphed into the sweet, tender cookie it is today, and Scotland claimed it as her own. There, it has become a typical sweet for the holidays, served during the Christmas season along with other sweets like cookies and mince pies, and at New Year’s (Hogmanay), with sharp cheese. It’s also part of the Scottish “first footing” tradition, which holds that the first person over a home’s threshold in the New Year must carry with them shortbread, to insure good luck throughout the year.
Petticoat Tails and More
Shortbread traditionally comes in three different shapes, from the “petticoat tails” (named after a pattern used to make voluminous skirts during Mary Queen of Scot’s era) that are triangles cut out of a round, to a thick rectangle or a thick round. And this cookie/cake is called short not due to any inferiority complex, but because it is filled with butter, which in sufficient amounts makes any pastry crumbly, thus short
How Does Shortbread Fly in France?
Where does shortbread fit into the French repertoire? Well, the cakes of Brittany, called sables, resemble shortbread though they are much sweeter. This has to do with the triangular market, slavery, and sugar cane but that is another story. In any case, the French seemingly love shortbread as much – or maybe more -than they love sables because the big brands of shortbread are present in all French supermarkets and specialty shops.
Shortbread is so easy to make, with an excellent recipe and we are offering you one here.
We hope you’ll add shortbread to your holiday cookie assortment, but don’t stop making it once the holidays are over. It’s an ideal year-round cookie/cake, perfect with a cup of tea or coffee or, as the Scots suggest, with your favorite sharp cheese!
- 2-1/4 cups; 335g bleached, all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 8 ounces; 1 stick; 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup;100g vanilla sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
- Preheat the oven to 375 F (190C).
- Sift together the flour and the salt onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper.
- Cream the butter in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer until it is pale yellow and light. Add the sugar and continue mixing until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar and mix until the dough is just combined. Don’t over mix the dough.
- Either press the dough into a 9-1/2 inch (Otherwise, roll it out between sheets of parchment paper to a rectangle that is about 10 x 14 inches (25 x 35cm) and ¼ inch (.65cm) thick. Sprinkle the dough with the sugar, then cut into the shape of your choice. Place them about ½-inch (1.25cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets and bake in the center of the oven until they are golden at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer them to wire racks to cool. Pack these in an airtight container. They will keep for at least a week.