Shortbread Cookies – a Christmas Classic

By Elizabeth Atia

One of my most favourite things about this time of year, besides the appearance of twinkling Christmas lights illuminating the long, darknights, is all the festive baking. Christmas cakes, mince meat tarts, the smell of wafting cinnamon, ginger and cloves... and shortbread cookies!

Shortbread, a popular Christmas and Hogmanay treat, is considered to have originated in Scotland, being widely made as far back as the 12th century. However,the earliest written recipe datesback to 1736 and Mrs McLintoch’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-work. This cookery book was, incidentally, Scotland’s first published recipe book!

Here’s an 18th century recipe for you, credited to Mrs Frazer and her recipe book The Practice of Cookery: Pastry, Confectionary, Pickling, Preserving & C.

Take a peck of flour…beat and sift a pound of sugar; take orange-peel, citron, and blanched almonds, of each half a pound, cut in pretty long thin pieces: mix these well in the flour; then make a hole in the middle of the flour, put in three table-spoons of good yeast; then work it up, but not too much…roll out; prickle them on top, pinch them neat round the edges, and strew sugar, carraways, peel, and citron, on the top. Fire it…in a moderate oven.

It is thought that Scottish shortbread was derived from a twice baked medieval yeasted biscuit bread which was flavoured with spices and dusted with sugar. It was MaryQueen of Scots who refined the recipe, possibly using French food inspiration to create the triangular petticoat tail shortbread shapes we now love.

Traditional Scottish shortbread contains just three ingredients: butter, flour and sugar in a ratio of two parts butter, one part sugar and three parts plain flour. This mixture is formed into either a large circle which is baked, then cut into triangular shapes, into individual round biscuits or formed into a large 2 cm thick slab which is then cut into shortbread fingers. The biscuits are usually marked with the tines of a fork too, before baking.

The recipe I’ve shared with you here is not a traditional Scottish shortbread recipe by any means. Rather, it originates from my Canadian childhood whereit was made by the older ladies in the village to share with friends and family at church socials and get-togethers. It was my favourite Christmas cookie, the creamy smooth buttery biscuit topped with a tiny dollop of sweet frosting and a decorative piece of glace cherry – in both green and red for variety.

Christmas, for me, starts when a batch of these cookies have been made.

Whipped Shortbread Recipe

  • 225 gramsbutter
  • 90 gramsicingsugar
  • 80 gramscornflour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 250 grams plain flour

To decorate

  • 150 grams icing sugar
  • 4-5 tsp cold water
  • Red and green glace cherries, cut into 8ths

Preheat your oven to 160 C.

Place the butter, icing sugar, cornflour, vanilla and flour into the bowl of a food processor and blend until it comes together to form a soft dough.

Roll the dough into teapsoonful size balls and place on a lined baking tray.

Bake in the centre of your preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until slightly golden around the edges.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To decorate, mix the icing sugar with enough cold water to make a slightly runny frosting. Place a small dollop of the frosting on the top of each whipped shortbread and decorate with an eighth of a glace cherry.

Elizabeth Atia

Mum, daydream adventurer, ex-pat Canadian & quite possibly Britain's most northerly award-winning food blogger. Calls Shetland home.

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