Last week was my aunt Kristin’s birthday, and she had only one request of me: butter shortbread cookies. She is a woman of very discerning tastes and gave me explicit directions on just how she wanted them baked. They were to be thick, delicate, not too sweet, a light dusting of very fine sugar and above all else, buttery! As some of you may have noticed, my aunt Kristin is one of my pastry muses. She doesn’t bake much herself, but she has a keen sweet tooth and can recognize a great recipe, without ever making it.
The recipe I settled on was from one of my trusted favorites, Tartine. It struck me as simple and classic. I used a smaller pan than they requested so that my shortbread would be to the exact specifications of Kristin’s desired cookie. I ended up making two batches so that I would have plenty to send to her and to keep a few for myself. They aren’t overly sweet so I figured my kids wouldn’t be that interested. Boy was I wrong. My six year old took a bite and said “man, these are good!” Spoken like a true first grader.
The ultimate flavor is the butter so this is a great place to try out one of the European style butters featured in this months Saveur Magazine (page 78).
Makes 24 thick butter shortbread cookies
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (9oz/255g) unsalted butter at room temperature (I used Plugra, but you can use any butter. If it has salt then you will need to decrease the salt in the recipe or cut it out all together. Taste the butter and determine how salty it is.)
1/2 teaspoon (2ml) kosher salt
1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons (9oz/255g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 2/3 oz/75g) cornstarch
1/3 cups 2 1/2oz/70g) granulated sugar
For the top:
1/4 cup (2oz/55g) superfine sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and prepare a 8×8-inch (those are the top dimensions. The bottom of the dish measures 7×7-inch) glass baking dish with butter and parchment.
Sift together the flour and cornstarch, set aside. I sifted them onto a sheet of parchment, but a bowl will do.
Cream the butter until very soft. This may take a couple of minutes if your butter isn’t at room temperature. Add salt and sugar and mix until just combined.
Add flour and cornstarch, mix on low until a smooth dough forms.
Put the dough in the prepared baking dish and cover with plastic wrap.
Press the dough until it evenly covers the baking dish and is nice and smooth.
Peel off the plastic and bake for until light golden, about 30-38 minutes, depending how think your shortbread is.
While the shortbread is baking you can make your superfine sugar if you don’t already have some. Pour some granulated sugar into a food processor and grind it up for about a minute.
Once the shortbread comes out of the oven sprinkle the superfine sugar over the top. You want to do it while the cookies are still hot so that some of the sugar will melt slightly and cling to the cookies. Gently tilt the pan so the sugar is even, don’t go too far or the cookies will fall out of the pan. (I learned this the hard way the first time I made shortbread!)
When the shortbread is still warm, but not hot cut them into rectangles. If you wait too long and the cookies cool they will become brittle and crack. Let them cool completely before trying to remove them from the pan. The first cookie is nearly impossible to get out without breaking up, this is the one you eat for quality control!
My family and I ate them while they were fresh from the pan and very soft. When I had my father hand deliver the shortbread to Kristin, 8 states away, she let them sit for a couple of days before she even tried one. She likes them after they have firmed up a bit. Wow that takes some serious will power!