Crumbly, buttery shortbread – to lemon or not to lemon?

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I’ve always been doubtful about shortbread but in the last couple of weeks I’ve become a true believer. Shortbread is such a simple thing that, a bit like a tomato salad, it can either be a thing of exciting beauty or something dull and pointless. This recipe, if made carefully, is buttery, delicate and crumbly – and extremely more-ish. (The version is adapted very slightly from Felicity Cloake’s excellent Guardian column that compares lots of versions of things and then comes up with a recommendation)

The only question that remained is whether at the cafes we should serve classic buttery shortbread or a zesty lemon version. For a week we served both lemon and classic shortbread and the plain (classic) version was the clear winner – we sold nearly twice as many of them. But the great thing is that at home you don’t have to be guided by the majority verdict – the choice is yours.

To ensure that your shortbread is always perfect:

  1. Use plain flour not a strong white bread flour – I didn’t think this really mattered until I tried both and compared them
  2. make sure the butter is really soft before beating it with the sugar
  3. don’t be tempted to omit the ground rice. It adds a delicious nubbly texture which is perfect for shortbread.
  4. don’t overwork the dough
  5. chill the biscuits before baking

Christmas and shortbread 012To make about 22 biscuits

250g salted butter, very soft but not melted
(if using unsalted butter then add 1/4 tsp of salt to the flour)
125g caster sugar
285g plain flour
90g ground rice
extra caster sugar for sprinkling at the end

To make the lemon shortbread just add the very finely grated zest of 2 lemons to the flour mixture before mixing with the sugar/butter mix.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 130C (fan oven – 150C for a non-fan oven)
  1. Put the very soft butter and the caster sugar into a large mixing bowl, and beat with handheld electric mixer until very soft and fluffy.
  1. Add the flour and ground rice and mix swiftly with a large spoon so it is beginning to come together. Then use your hands to pull it together into one blob.
  1. Roll the dough out to just under 1cm thick and cut out rounds 7cm diameter cookie cutter. Do not use extra flour when rolling out the dough. Re-use leftover dough until it’s all used. Put cookies on to baking sheets on baking parchment, leaving a little space between in each one.
  1. Refrigerate for 30 mins before baking.
  1. Bake for 50 minutes until cooked but not brown. Leave on the tray for 2 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack and sprinkle with caster sugar. I find that sifting the caster sugar through a tea strainer makes it easier to do an even coating. Store in tins with baking parchment between layers.

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