One of my favourite cookies for the holidays is shortbread. Its rich buttery taste just gets me in the mood for sitting in front of a warm cozy fire with a mug of hot chocolate and these great cookies. This is also the perfect cookie to set out for the jolly old elf himself for his yearly visit.
It has been said that shortbread originated in Scotland. Leftover bits of dough would be made in little disks and baked on the side of the fire. Biscuits were literally twice baked and that’s where the word came from: ‘bis’ – twice/two and ‘coctus’ – cooked in latin became bescuit in Old French and eventually biscuit in English. Butter gradually replaced yeast as dairy farming became more popular in Scotland. You may wonder why it’s called shortbread as it doesn’t really resemble any type of bread we know now.
Butter, the defining ingredient in the recipe, is often listed as “shortening,” hence the cookie’s name: “short (ening) bread.” In fact, butter is so integral to the cookie that in 1921 the British government legislated that any product called shortbread must contain at least 51% fat derived from real butter. Thank you Britain for keeping the rich cookie tradition alive.
The high butter content produces a crumbly texture. Fat inhibits gluten, a protein in wheat, which allows dough to rise. Gluten gives dough a chewy texture. Higher fat content slows down gluten. Its protein strands are then shorter, rather than longer, producing a more crumbly texture rather than a chewy one. This particular shortbread is whipped instead of made into a dough and pressed into a mold or cut into cookie shapes. Because it’s whipped the cookie can be piped with a piping bag.
Preheat your oven to 350F. You’ll start by whipping in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment. I recommend using a standing mixer instead of the handheld kind, just because it has more power. This is a stiff batter and the smaller mixer might not be able to handle it. So, whip the butter and shortening until fluffy. On low speed add the flour, cornstarch, icing sugar, and extracts and whip on medium/high until light and fluffy. The batter should be stiff, but soft enough to pipe.
Place batter in a piping bag with a large star tip. I have a massive wax piping bag and I used a Wilton #4 star. Note, fill with bag about half way with the batter. Your hands will thank you later. If the bag is too full then it will be really hard to pipe the cookies.
Pipe rosettes with the piping bag by making two circles on top of each other with the batter and end in the middle of the cookie. The batter should be about an inch or so high. It will flatten with baking. Leave about two inches between each cookie and try to do alternate spacing with the rows by piping the next row of cookies slightly lower than the previous row. This way the cookies will have room to spread and you can fit a little more on each tray. I use Silpat liners for my cookie trays but you can also use parchment.
Place a piece of glace cherry in the middle of each cookie (or use holiday sprinkles) and bake for 10-12 minutes. The cookies will flatten out and be slightly darker, but not much. If there’s browning around the edges then they may be over-baked, resulting in a tough cookie. Let the shortbread cool on the pan for about five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy with a cool glass of
milk or your favourite hot beverage.