I have an ongoing debate with Tony and my friend Rachelle about the nature of shortbread. Tony and Rachelle feel very strongly that it is an elite cookie: it requires a high ratio of fats (butter), and sugar and flour- the more refined, the better quality the shortbread (this theory works better if applied to the 18th century). Also, in their experiences growing up, shortbread was a special cookie served only at Christmas, and usually for guests. It wasn’t the cookie they got after school with a glass of milk.
I have always felt that shortbread was a cookie of the people: it’s been around forever (or so it seems), it requires few ingredients that are available to almost everyone at any time, and there are variations across cultures demonstrating its versatility, timeless and appeal. Furthermore, everyone seems to have a shortbread recipe of their own and/or a family recipe- it’s a cookie that many people experience. The expense of the fats doesn’t really cut it with me- cookies are luxuries anyway. And their own childhood experiences were probably just good parenting, considering the high fat content of shortbread.
Whatever the place in the social hierarchy of the shortbread cookie, there’s soon to be plenty of them for us to nibble on. Or at least there will be in my elite house.
I made these for the office cookie event. My office relies on good relationships in order to accomplish our mandate. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury or ordering or requiring anyone to do what we want them to do, so we bribe them with cookies every Christmas. On a Sunday, we all bake. On the Monday, we make up baskets and carry them off to the people who were nicest to us and easiest to work with over the previous year.
I dressed mine up with semi-sweet chocolate chips and chopped maraschino cherries or dried apricots. They’re easy, add colour to a cookie selection, freeze well, and always disappear quickly.
1 C butter, softened (I use salted)
½ C icing sugar
1 ½ C all purpose flour
½ C cornstarch
1 C or more chopped nuts, candied or dried fruit, chocolate, etc. (optional)
1. Cream butter and icing sugar (I use a mixer).
2. Sift together flour and cornstarch. Beat into butter.
3. With your hands or a spoon, knead into a dough.
4. Add chocolate, fruit or nuts with your hands or a spoon.
5. Shape dough into balls about the size of a large walnut (about 3cm in diameter). Or roll out and cutin shapes.
6. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
7. Bake at 300F for 20 minutes or until lightly browned at the edges.