scottish shortbread cathedral cookies and traditional wedges

from Rose's 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 "cathedral cookies."

  • 1 1/4 cups (10 oz) unsalted cold butter
  • 1/4 cup (1 oz) lightly spooned powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1.75 oz) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups (12.5 oz) bleached all-purpose flour (dip and sweep method)
Equipment: ungreased cookie sheets.
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.

Smart Cookie
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.
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