Shortbread has been enjoyed since the Middle Ages (according to a quick internet search) and is one of the simplest desserts you can make, consisting of only a few ingredients. I think of it as a socially acceptable way to consume multiple sticks of butter, which is what we all truly want to do anyway. Shortbread was one of my favorite desserts before Ted Lasso made it cool; Tartine Bakery has long served dainty rectangles of simple shortbread dusted with superfine sugar, and that’s always been one of my go-to baked goods when I visit. I like to take a bite and give myself a moment to imagine a simpler time; I imagine I’m in a cozy cafe somewhere in the UK, in a small village with cobbled streets that were built to hold horses and carriages, a place where frequent rain showers make the nearby hills appear to glow with the truest definition of green.
Speaking of green, I invited my parents over on St. Patrick’s Day this year for a “meal” of shortbread and scones with apricot jam, to which they contributed a plate of bacon. A fine feast, indeed. I hid five plastic eggs containing a single chocolate chip each and an illustrated clue to the next egg around the backyard, culminating at our little apple tree in which I’d hidden a handmade (not by me) leprechaun lass. Phoebe was stoked on the chocolate chips, bemused by the clues, and interested in the leprechaun but, I suspect, a little sad it wasn’t made out of more chocolate chips. Jonji joined us for dinner at our friends’ house for homemade pizza, and the night ended as I’m sure most people’s do, with our naked children dancing to ABBA like little crazed woodland sprites. All in all, a lovely St. Patrick’s.
But back to the shortbread. I can easily eat five or six of these buttery rectangles in one day (this is not an idle threat—I have actually eaten that many in a 12 hour period). They’re not too sweet, which makes them almost feel, perhaps dangerously so, like a snack. Cut into rectangles and stacked, they resemble gold bars (maybe from the pot at the end of the rainbow?). The dusting of superfine sugar is optional, but it does make the bars look like they’re sprinkled with magical fairy dust when the sun hits them.
Fun fact: my dad recently wondered aloud why this treat is called “shortbread”—maybe you’re wondering that too. The term “short” in baking means a high ratio of fat to flour; in layman’s terms, this means crumbly, tender, and buttery. So basically, all the best things.
makes one 8×8-inch tray, about 18 slices | adapted from Smitten Kitchen
230g (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into chunks
80g (⅔ cup) powdered sugar, sifted to remove lumps
½ tsp fine sea salt
270g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
45g (about ⅓ cup) cornstarch (you can use tapioca or potato flour instead)
1-2 tbsp superfine Baker’s sugar
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line an 8×8-inch baking tray with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, 80g powdered sugar, and ½ tsp fine sea salt. Mix on medium-low speed until smooth and a little fluffy, scraping down the side of the bowl a couple of times. Add both flours and mix until just combined; a rough dough will form but it’ll still be pretty clumpy.
Tip the dough into your lined tray and, using an offset spatula (or a combination of your hands plus a clean measuring cup) spread and press the dough into an even, smooth layer. This will take some time to get it totally even and smooth, but persevere, it will get there eventually!
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Take the tray out and carefully slice into your desired shapes (you can use a skewer to make dotted indentations as well, if you’d like). Return the tray to the oven for another 35-40 minutes, until a lovely golden color all over. Let cool for about 20 minutes, then sprinkle with superfine sugar (optional), making sure to tap and twist the tray to get an even spread. Let cool fully before lifting the shortbread out and cutting into rectangles along your previously made cut-lines.
These are best when they are completely cool and might even be best the day after baking (good luck waiting). Enjoy!