I don't normally cook that many sweet things, possibly cookies and brownies aside, and have never attempted shortbread before, but a month or two back I suddenly decided on a whim to give it a go.
I started off using the recipe in Ruhlman's Twenty , which is as follows:
- 225 grams plain flour
- 170 grams butter
- 100 grams caster sugar
He advised that the most important thing about making good shortbread was the quality of the ingredients, which makes sense being as its such a simple combination of three ingredients. What followed was me spending several hours reading about butter. And I am speaking literally. I spent at least three hours reading about butter online.
Michael Ruhlman recommended using cultured butter if you can get it, so I went about trying different butters - the first two I tried were cultured, but honestly I didn't see that much of a noticeable difference in real terms - I then tried a few high-end British salted butters (cultured butter is more of a French/European thing, most English butter isn't cultured).
After a while of variations - all of which predominantly turned out very tasty - I still wasn't super impressed with the quality.
One day, for no particular reason that I can remember, I thought to myself, why not try browning the butter first and using that for my shortbread. This turned out to work well. Maybe it wouldn't impress shortbread purists, but it works for me. So here it is..
- 1/3 teaspoon fine salt (I started using 1/2 teaspoon in my firstbatch, but it was ever so slightly too salty for my taste, although still very edible - so adjust this to taste)
- 200 grams plain flour
- 20 grams cornmeal (if you want, just replace this with more plain flour)
- 100 grams white caster sugar
- 170 grams brown butter (butter will reduce in the browning process, so you probably need to start off with something like 220 grams butter to be sure)
- Brown your butter - this is a simple process, chop it up and chuck it into a pan (ideally a stainless steel or something where you can clearly see the colour of the butter throughout the process) and melt it over a gentle heat - once melted, it will start to turn a golden brown and will start to smell awesome (more so) and kind of nutty, as it starts to brown, keep stirring it to make sure the sediments don't burn
- Transfer your molten brown butter to a bowl to cool and set (I transfer it to a bowl on top of a digital scales, so I can get the required 170 grams I need later.
- Once set, cream the butter and sugar together in a mixer, ideally with a paddle attachment if you have it (this is just for ease really)
- Once creamed together and looking light, add in the flour, cornflour and salt - mix until combined
- At this point we are freestyling, if you have a pan or something you want to put it in, then chuck it in, and slam it in the oven at about 160 (fan oven) for about 20minutes, or until lightly browned - What I do at this point is normally roll into a tube shape, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to cool. Once cooled, it's easily sliced into disks that can be lay on a baking tray for consistent size/appearance biscuits.