I’ve never really liked Burns’s poetry. Sorry. Revoke my Scottish citizenship, but it’s never been my thing. Burns Night, however, I can entirely get behind: haggis, ceilidh dancing, whisky, shortbread. Shortbread is, I think, one of Scotland’s great contributions to the world—crumbly, buttery, dangerously moreish, and very easy to make.
The trick to good shortbread is essentially to work the dough as little as possible to keep the texture delicate and crumbly. For me, the best way is to start mixing with the spoon and then bring the dough together with my hands, but if you’re not keen on getting your hands covered in shortbread, a sturdy wooden spoon will work just as well.
It’s super important to use actual butter, too—those tubs of spreadable margarine don’t have any buttery flavour to come across in the finished shortbread, and the higher water content can mess up the crumbly texture.
200g salted butter, softened
75g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
275g plain flour
Set your oven to 160ºC (or 14oº if you have a fan oven) and line a tray with baking paper.
Weigh out your butter and sugar into a large bowl and mix them together until they’re just combined into a smooth mixture. If the butter isn’t quite soft, give it a few seconds on low power in the microwave. Try not to mix too vigorously; beating in too much air here can make the finished biscuits expand in the oven and go spongy.
Add the flour and cornflour, and gently mix until everything comes together into a dough. Sprinkle your work surface with a bit of flour, and roll out the dough (or just flatten it with the palm your hand) until it’s about as thick as your finger.
Cut out your biscuits in whichever shapes you fancy and put them on your lined baking tray. Prick them gently with a fork, then pop them into the fridge for 20 minutes to rest. Don’t be tempted to skip the resting—it stops the shortbread losing its shape in the oven and helps to keep the texture tender and crumbly.
Once the biscuits have chilled, put them in the middle of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. It can be quite tricky to judge when shortbread is properly baked because it doesn’t take on much colour, so if you’re unsure whether it’s ready, leaving it in for a few minutes longer won’t do too much harm.
As soon as the biscuits come out the oven, sprinkle them with caster sugar before letting them cool on the tray. These biscuits are best enjoyed with a soothing cup of tea, or, if you’re feeling extra Scottish, a substantial tot of whisky. (Go on. I won’t judge you.)
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