In Which Helen Tells How She Makes Shortbread Cookies (in great detail and without apology)
Someone will be interested in how I do this. If you are not, then just blog on.
Warning: butter is involved. In large quantities!
This is the one thing I still make around Xmas time. This recipe yields about 100 stars, diamonds, moons, etc.
I start with 1 pound of butter which I cut up into chunks and place into a large mixing bowl. I don't pay particular attention to whether it is cold or warm, but I think it's on the colder side when I do this...
These are fairly fine chunks. They don't have to be this small. Anyway.
Then measure 4 and a half cups of your favorite white flour, about a half a cup of ground rice and a cup of sugar. The faint of heart should move on now. If the butter is unsalted, then I add a bit of salt at this point.
An aside about Ground Rice: This ingredient is no longer available in North America ( if it is, then I want to know where) but it is not strictly necessary to the recipe. You can replace it with another half cup or so of regular flour. Don't bother with rice flour. It's bogus. Ground rice really improves the sandy texture of the shortbread. This year, I bought Ground Rice in the Good Life shop in Wooler, but in the UK you can buy it everywhere. In Montreal, they used to sell it in the Steinberg's in Westmount but they stopped carrying it there in the 1990's. I have bugged the Wegman's folks here in Rochester with no success. It did occur to me when put this into my suitcase that it looks a bit suspicious but nevermind. So far it has come through unscathed...
Sift the dry ingredients into a big heap over the butter, in no particular order.
Take a medium sized knife and cut said dry ingredients into the butter until the pieces of butter are quite small, rotating the bowl as you cut. Aim for pea sized, but just do it for as long as you can bear it. Stay calm.
Now, give your hands a thorough wash, remove any rings and bracelets that you may be wearing and dig in. Knead the dough slowly but surely, just like you're making pastry, until the butter absorbs all the dryness and the dough can be shaped into 3 or 4 large balls. This could take 10 or 15 minutes.
An aside about methods: Don't even talk to me about machines to do this. I come from people who couldn't bring themselves to buy a refrigerator as recently as the 1980's. Lalalalala...
Pastry making is the Pilates of the kitchen. Some people hate doing it. They try it once and quit with aching muscles, declaring it a failure. Be patient, move intentionally and rhythmically and think about something nice, maybe about your knitting. If your hands or arms hurt, just stop and look out the window for a bit. Then have another go. Don't despair, the butter WILL eventually absorb everything without the need to add liquid. You can do it.
Once it becomes sticky like this...
...then push it together into 3 or 4 large balls, cover the bowl with a tea towel and set it aside in a cool place to stand for about an hour. A cool corner of a back room will do. Only use the fridge for this if your apartment is really hot. Houses aren't hot these days, are they?
Prepare an area on the counter or table to roll it out. If you don't have a rolling pin, use a cold bottle of wine. Spread a little flour on the surface and get out one of your balls of dough. It will require a bit of handling before it warms up again and you are able to roll it out to a thickness of your liking. Don't panic. Just keep picking up the pieces and rolling them out again.
I like to roll it out to about a quarter inch thick or less, before I start using the cookie cutters on it, but some people like it as thick as a half inch or more.
These people are traditionalists. They roll the dough out, put it into a pan and then cut it up into fingers after it's baked. Some people, like my sister Christina do this. It's delicious.
I give a lot of shortbread away each year, and I don't want to kill anyone, so I shape the dough into many small cookies....
This year, my lovely neighbour Emily gave me a new cookie sheet. Message received.
I bake my cookies at 325 F for 5 or 6 minutes, just until I begin to see a faint, slightly darker outline around the edges. You have to watch these things like a hawk or they burn.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!