Musings of a Lady

Monday, June 13, 2011

Le Cuisine - Shorties

Shortbread cookies in the shape of buttons!  I was reading one of my favorite magazines  Country Living - UK version (May 2011) and they had an article on baking called Best of British Biscuits and Buns (pg 150).    The recipe for shortbread buttons got me psyched for a bit of baking and the results are above.  I used a scalloped cookie cutter (biscuit cutter) for the bottom pair.  I like the results.  Did they taste good?  Anything with lots of butter tastes fabulous.  Shortbreads are so easy to make - although I had to translate British measures (metric) to American standards of measure and I had too much flour and had to add more butter to save the effort!

As I was sampling my little treats - not really wondering about the calories - I wondered how long Shortbread biscuits have been around.  So, with teacup filled and a few shorties by my side I rummaged through my references (a bookcase full of cookbooks).  This what I found:

According to Wikipedia (the one electronic source I used):
Shortbread cookies is a "... classic Scottish dessert that consists of three basic ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter."  Originally it was a sweet, dry biscuit with yeast that would have been called a rusk and was twice baked.  When butter replaced the yeast it became more of the biscuits (cookies) we know now.  Although, prepared much in the 12th century it is said that Queen Mary of Scotland's kitchens refined it - baking it in a round and cut into triangular wedges and flavored with caraway seeds.  They were called petticoat tails.  Additonally, shortbreads became special holiday sweets for Christmas and the Scots Hogmanay.

Now in my historical cookbooks I was only able to find a few historical references.   In Fabulous Feasts by Madelene Pelner Cosman,  a recipe for  burrebrede - The old English translated into shortbread.  As short is a derivative of shortening - the fat content of the biscuits or cake.  Looking at the recipe and comparing it to the one in the Country Living magazine it was the same portportion of  butter to flour and sugar but with the additions of  cinnamon, cardamon, ginger and allspice.  The Country Living magazine suggested additions of lavendar sugar, grated lemon peel  or a pinch of cinnamon.

The next reference I could find was in my Willaimsburg Art of Cookery developed by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  On page 166 there is a Scotch Shortbread recipe.  This one has blanched almonds ground up in it and is ornamented with a strip of orange peel.  The recipe is cited as being an 'Old Richmond Recipe.  Prov'd Market Square Tavern Kitchen, 1937.  Isabel Beeton's Book of Household Management does include the Scotch Shortbread.  So, her Victorian recipe calls for the additions of 1 oz of sweet almonds, 1/2 oz of caraway seeds and a few strips of  candied orange peel.  She even provides time for production:  25-30 mins (not sure if that includes the 25-30 min baking time as well.  The average cost for a batch 2 shillings for 6 cakes (she has you create 6 cakes or rounds).

My last found references are in the 1950's version of The Joy of Cooking edited by Marion Rombauer Becker - daughter of Irma Starkloff Rombauer.  It is the only version I prefer. The latest ones don't have how to make jams and other useful things! And the The Book of National Trust Recipes by Sarah Edington.  Neither give a historical point of view but the recipes continue to be widely used.

Anyway, I have always liked shortbread cookies when I wanted something to satisfy a sweet tooth craving but not break the bank on sugar...I guess this doesn't work for the fat content...oh, well, life is too short, right?    In fact the recipe is basically one part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour.  Adding ground rice or cornflour gives it texture.  I have never tried that.

Well, I love learning something new.  If you have anything to add about shortbread cookies please share.  I await your comments with my cup of tea and a couple of shorties.  Cheers.


RonJoe 'Geezer' said...

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BTW, I love shortbread cookies! :-)

Anonymous said...

The shortbread buttons are darling and look delicious (cleverly averted butter flour situation notwithstanding). Thanks so much for the research too!

--Maura Mihalakis