by Joanna Pritchard
[Ed. note: this article is part of our series of weekly family activities called Family Fun, published on Fridays.]
There’s some part of any baking recipe that children of any age can really get into, in addition to licking the spoon. Whether unwrapping and cutting up a stick of butter, measuring sugar, pouring, mixing or shaping, there’s some aspect every child finds satisfying. And the prospect of sweet treats infuses it with excitement.
Here’s a great shortbread recipe that our family loves. My kids like it because you knead the ingredients together, and what could be more fun than plunging your hands into cookie dough? Actually to call it a cookie is not really accurate, it’s crisp and crumbly rather than chewy.
The recipe comes from Scottish Cookery by Catherine Brown, a wedding gift received (20 years ago this month!) from a college friend. Emma knew I was heading to the USA and would need a reliable source of recipes from the homeland!
In Scotland shortbread has been given as a special gift for centuries, and we love making it and giving it to friends at Christmas. It works great as teacher gifts – make up a big batch (it multiplies up well) and wrap them in wax paper and lunch bags your children decorate. Make a package for an elderly neighbor and let your children deliver it.
I love it partly because the ingredients are so pure and simple, just sugar, butter and flour.
Sometimes I add chopped pecans to give it a North American twist. In Scotland, chopped almonds, crystallized citrus peel or caraway seeds are often added for festive occasions. I don’t really approve of the modern varieties with chocolate chips; while I am a confessed chocoholic, it seems unnecessary to reduce the biodiversity of the sweets world by adding cocoa to all the other fabulous flavors out there.
If you use good ingredients your unadorned shortbread will be delicious enough by itself, a buttery, more-ish accompaniment to most beverages and many occasions. Serve some when friends drop in for tea or coffee this Christmas.
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 stick butter (softened)
1/3 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 300°F
Put the sugar and butter in a large bowl or on a board and knead together.
Sift the flour into a corner and work in gradually until the dough is soft and pliable but not too firm.
Add more flour until the dough can take no more without breaking up. Different ingredients will have varying amounts of moisture and absorbency so judge it by texture.
If it’s too dry just work in a bit more softened butter, if too sticky add more flour.
Roll into a log about 2.5” in diameter and roll in sugar to coat sides. Demarara sugar works well.
Wrap closely in wax paper and chill about 30 mins. (I use saved insert bags from boxes of cereal or crackers)
When firm, cut the log into ½” slices and prick with a fork to let the steam escape during baking. I like to make a snowflake pattern.
Bake on a greased baking sheet around 40 mins in the lower half of the oven.
Keep an eye on it after 30 mins; they should be a light golden color.
Let cool on a rack.
Makes about 10 hefty shortbreads.
Wendell Berry famously says that eating is an agricultural act; why not connect positively with the source of your shortbread by using fair trade sugar and organic flour and butter? It will cost more, but just food production is worth it; something we forget when we’re so far separated from the source and so used to massive, cheap quantities, carelessly raised. Organic methods and fair trade care for the land and people that produced the ingredients, and make the gift extra meaningful. Precious, costly treats are to be savored, not scoffed; but having said that, see if YOU can eat just one!
Related Links at Flourish
What Are People For? by Wendell Berry
Scottish Cookery by Catherine Brown