Shortbread, the cookie that meets you where you’re at

Published June 13, 2018 | By ashley english

Sometimes, many times, if I’m being honest, my intention surpasses my abilities. Which is to say, much as I’d like to/hope to/aspire to get something done, I’m simply unable to. I have zero doubt that each and every one of you reading knows precisely what I’m talking about. You want so badly to rearrange your pantry, or clean out your garage, or weed your garden, but, alas, try as you might, it simply doesn’t happen. Life gets in the way. And that’s FINE! More than fine, in fact. As the book A Perfectly Kept House Is the Sign Of A Misspent Life claims, a bit of a mess is no problem, permitted you know how to navigate it (or, at least, that’s what I’ve elected to tell myself).

What does this have to do with shortbread? What doesn’t it have to do with shortbread?! Shortbread, you see, rights all wrongs. It is forgiving, and adaptive, and permissive, and malleable, and customizable, all things to strive for both in one’s personal disposition and one’s baked goods. Frequently, when I come across a more complex, temperamental cookie recipe, I think to myself, “Ohhhh, I should bake these!” And then, well, see above. Life gets in the way.

Not so with shortbread. From idea to log of chilled dough takes less than 10 minutes. If I’m feeling citrusy, zest goes into the mix. If it’s an herbaceous or floral mood I’m in, I grab the sage or lavender. If I’m feeling especially bold, in goes some Aleppo pepper, or crushed juniper berries. The iterations and permutations are endless, the execution beyond easy, and the finished results as tasty as they come.

I included a recipe for shortbread in Southern From Scratch. If you’re thinking that shortbread and the foods of the southern Appalachians have little in common, I present you with this bit of text from the book:

“Waves of Scotch-Irish immigrants began arriving in America in the late 1600s. Though they landed largely in Pennsylvania, many made their way south to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the 1720s and, later, in the 1780s, to western North Carolina. Their influence has remained, as evidenced by folk traditions, cultural traits, and foods present in the region today, including shortbread.”

As for me personally, and my affinity for shortbread, aside from those qualities mentioned above, there’s this, also from the book:

“I cannot recall exactly the age that I became obsessed with all things Scotland. It may have been around twenty years old, when my friend Dustan first introduced to me the film My Dinner With Andre, wherein Andre recounts his time at Findhorn, an intentional community in Scotland. It might have been through a college boyfriend’s British mother who was always receiving packages of goodies from her own mother back in England. Shortbread, Scotland’s dessert creation, was nearly always among the treasures. Or perhaps it was through my father’s wife, or even my father, both lovers of shortbread and all things U.K..”

So there you have it. My love of all things Scottish merged with my adoration for a very forgiving cookie. Father’s Day is this Sunday in the U.S.. I just returned from the post office, where this batch of shortbread is currently en route to a certain Pop (siblings reading this, mum’s the word!!!!). I can think of no other cookie that would be as easy to make for your own dad (or the father figures in your life) nor as heartily received as the shortbread I offer you here today.



Shortbread (recipe reprinted with permission from Southern From Scratch: Pantry Essentials and Down-Home Recipes, Ashley English, Roost Books 2018).
Makes 2 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup butter, cut into chunks

1. Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor until combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture begins to come together and hold its shape. This will take about 1 to 2 minutes, so don’t worry if the mixture looks crumbly at first.
2. Divide the dough in half. Place one halve onto a sheet of parchment paper. Shape it into a 6-inch log and roll it up in the parchment.
3. Repeat with the second half of dough. Place both parchment-wrapped logs in the refrigerator and chill for 1 to 2 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Remove the dough logs from the refrigerator. Slice each log into 12 rounds, about ½-inch thick each.
5. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until the edges just begin to brown. Cool the shortbread for 5 minutes in the pan, and then transfer to wire cooling racks to cool completely. Transfer to an airtight lidded container. Consume within 7 to 10 days.

Ashley English