shortbread cathedral cookies and traditional wedges
Christmas Cookies, William Morrow, 1990
Makes 4 dozen 1 1/2-inch cookies or 16 3 1/2-inch wedges
If there could be but one cookie in all the world, this would be it
for me, perhaps because there really is perfection in simplicity. Its
buttery flavor and tender texture with just the right amount of bite
are perfection. In order to avoid temptation, I like to store these
cookies in the freezer and take out just one to put in the oven with
the pilot light while brewing my afternoon coffee. By the time the cup
is brewed, the cookie is no longer cold--just right. Traditionally,
shortbread was baked in round discs with notches radiating around the
edges to represent the sun. But shortbread can be as creative as the
person who makes it. My favorite shortbread press comes from my good
friend, the brilliant cook and food columnist Bonnie Stern of the Bonnie
Stern School of Cooking in Toronto. My editor, Maria Guarnaschelli,
took one look at the cookies produced with this press and dubbed them
ungreased cookie sheets.
- 1 1/4
cups (10 oz) unsalted cold butter
cup (1 oz) lightly spooned powdered sugar
cup (1.75 oz) granulated sugar
- 2 1/2
cups (12.5 oz) bleached all-purpose flour (dip and sweep method)
Food Processor Method Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes, wrap it,
and refrigerate. In a food processor with the metal blade, process the
sugars for 1 minute or so, until the sugar is very fine. Add the butter
and pulse until the sugar disappears. Add the flour and pulse until there
are a lot of moist, crumbly little pieces and no dry flour particles remain.
Dump the mixture into a plastic bag and press it together. Remove the
dough from the plastic bag and knead it lightly until it holds together.
Electric Mixer or by Hand In Scotland it is said that the best
shortbread is mixed with the fingers and that each woman's fingers lend
something distinctive and special to the finished cookie. I find that
the texture is more delicate when the dough is mixed with the fingers
rather than in a machine. For either method, use superfine granulated
sugar for the best texture and be sure to soften the butter. In a medium
bowl, whisk together the sugars. In a large bowl, creamy he butter with
the sugars until light and fluffy. With you fingers or with the electric
mixer, mix in the flour until the mixture holds together. If using the
mixer, add the flour in 2 parts./
For Both Methods Place 2 oven racks in the upper and lower thirds
of the oven. Preheat oven to 275 F. Measure 2 level teaspoons or 1 scant
tablespoon of the dough and knead each piece by flattening it between
your palms and then rolling it into a 10-inch ball. (This keeps it from
cracking around the edges when pressed flat.) Place each ball on the cookie
sheet, flattening it with a cookie press, fork, or the bottom of a tumbler,
lightly moistened with water. Leave about 1 inch between flattened cookies.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until pale golden (do not brown). For
even baking, rotate the cookie sheets from top to bottom and from to back
halfway through the baking period. Use a small, angled metal spatula or
pancake turner to transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
Wedge-Shaped Shortbread Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Pat
each half into an ungreased 8-inch round cake pan. Use the tines of a
fork to press 3/4-inch lines radiating like rays os sun all aground the
perimeter of the dough. Prick the rest of the dough all over with the
tines of the fork. this keeps the shortbread even and creates the traditional
design. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until pale golden (do not brown).
For even baking, rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back
halfway through the baking period. Cool in the pans, on a wire rack, for
10 minutes. Invert the shortbread onto flat cookie sheet and slide it
onto a cutting board. While still warm, use a long sharp knife to cut
each 8-inch round of shortbread into 8 pie-shaped wedges. Transfer the
wedges to wire racks to cool completely.
Store: In an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer.
Keeps: Several months.
For the granulated sugar use superfine for the best texture. In Scotland,
part rice flour (1/6 the total volume of flour) is used in making the
shortbread. It results in a crisper texture. I prefer shortbread made
with all-purpose flour. If you use rice flour, be sure it is fresh, and
store the leftover flour in the refrigerator as it can become rancid.
In Canada, the sugar in the shortbread is sometimes replaced with an equal
eight or 6 tablespoons of firmly packed light brown sugar for a "richer"
cookie. Shortbread dough can be pressed into lightly oiled and floured
decorative wooden molds and then inverted onto cookie sheets to bake;
however, I find that large discs of shortbread have the best texture when
shaped and baked in aluminum caked pans. Perhaps it's because the sides
of the pan keep the dough from spreading and the resulting shortbread
is somewhat more compact. Allow the cookie sheet(s) to cool completely
before using for the next batch. Distribute the cookies evenly around
cookie evenly around the cookie sheet. Avoid crowding the cookies into
one section of the cookie sheet, leavening a large area bare.