These traditional shortbread cookies come together with the classic simple ingredients of butter, sugar, and flour. Queen Victoria purportedly liked her shortbread with a little salt, so that is included as well.
Shortbread originated in Scotland as far back as the 12th century. The first printed recipe was by a Mrs. McLintock, of Scotland, in 1736. The cookies are made without leavening from yeast or baking powder, so they are very firm when baked and they travel well without breaking.
Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have treasured shortbread in the 16th century and it was served for special occasions as butter was an expensive commodity. The shortbread was part of Christmas and Hogmanay (Scottish New Year's Eve) celebrations.
Shortbread can be shaped and cut out in a variety of ways. One of the more traditional ways is the large, round disk with shapes pressed onto the dough. Alternatively, you can make it in the simple oblong finger shapes pricked with the tines of a fork. Or you can form them into the traditional "petticoat tail" wedges or other shapes.
This version includes a pinch of salt, but go ahead and omit it if you use salted butter. There are many possible variations on the classic recipe. Granulated sugar can be used, or for a darker shortbread, use light or dark brown sugar.
- 1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 1/2 cup sugar (powdered)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (11 1/4 to 12 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven to 325 F.
- In a bowl, combine the flour and salt; stir to blend thoroughly and set aside.
- In a mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in the vanilla.
- Kneading with your hands, gradually add the flour and salt mixture into the creamed mixture until you have a stiff dough which can be rolled. Do not overwork the dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat or roll it out to 1/4-inch thickness.
- Cut the dough into squares -- or another shape, if you like -- and prick them in several places with the tines of a fork. Place the cookies on an ungreased (or parchment paper-lined) cookie sheet.
- Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and store in airtight containers.
Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips with 2 teaspoons of shortening. Microwave uncovered on 100% power for about 1 1/2 minutes, or until melted. Stir the chocolate until smooth. Dip half of each shortbread cookie in the melted chocolate and place them on wax paper until the chocolate has set. If desired, sprinkle the chocolate coating with finely chopped nuts, crushed candy canes, or bits o' brickle before it is set.