The perfect shortbread

Shortbread is one of those elusive things in life. Sometimes you make it and it turns out amazing. Other times it’s a huge disappointment and your baking confidence takes a plummet. Shortbread really should not be underrated. Many people prefer more bells and whistles to their biscuits, but a truly great bake should not be messed with. I like how confident and classic it is. A good recipe – and I mean really good – will never go out of style.

I am quite fussy about how I like mine. Throughout my life I have tried to bake THE perfect shortbread. To me, the paragon of that perfection comes in the form of (bear with me because it’s true!) shop-bought Walker’s shortbread. I love them for their butter. Butter is the key: it really is the source of all things happy and good. This year, I have decided to bake as many shortbread recipes as I can in the search to find my ultimate shortbread. It has to be a little bit brown on top, crunchy, short and buttery (and I mean buttery to the point that it leaves your fingertips greasy afterwards). The important thing to remember about shortbread is that like pastry you cannot overwork it. You need light, quick, deft hands.

My first go was a terrible recipe I won’t mention because it wasn’t worth posting about. There was waaay too much flour. My second attempt was this lovely, rough and ready one. Based on a recipe from the Daylesford Farm cookbook, A Love for Food, I substituted grated lemon zest with bergamot zest and this made it all the better for dipping into my Fortnum’s smoky Earl Grey tea (I am not an old fuddy-duddy lady but like Sally in When Harry Met Sally like my food the way I like it).

Shortbread

Bergamot shortbread

125g softened unsalted butter

65g unrefined caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

120g plain flour

65g rice flour

good pinch salt

zest 1 bergamot

Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale and airy. Add the flours, salt and bergamot zest and mix until it has just come together. Form gently into a ball. Place a sheet of clingfilm on the benchtop and place the dough on it. Place another sheet of clingfilm on top and roll the dough into a circular shape until it is 0.5cm thick. Carefully peel off the clingfilm and transfer the dough to the lined baking sheet. Pop this into the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 170ºC.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until light golden brown. Take out of the oven and score randomly almost right through (this will make it easy to break the shortbread up once it has cooled). Leave to rest for a few minutes to firm up. Dust with sugar and break up. Cool completely on a wire rack.

(Adapted from the Lemon Shortbread recipe, A Love for Food, 4th estate, 2013)