Shortbread Recipe

Shortbread

I grew up in the most anglophile French household I know, where the paperbacks strewn about the coffee table often bore little penguins, where the parents used English as a secret language when they didn’t want their daughters to understand, and where sending them to England every summer sounded like a good idea (that question is still up for debate; in any case, there went the secret language).

Food-wise, it meant that fried eggs frequently came with Worcestershire sauce and bacon (and even bangers if we were lucky), that fromage blanc was liberally doused with Golden Syrup, and that Christmas wouldn’t have been Christmas without my mother’s marzipan-topped Christmas cake, prepared weeks in advance.

It also meant that shopping expeditions to the Boulevard Haussmann department stores always ended with a quick run through Marks & Sparks‘ food section for tea, English muffins, stem ginger biscuits, hot cross buns, mincemeat pies, cole slaw, ready-made Indian dishes, and even bangers if we were lucky. Oh, and shortbread, too, which disappeared at a speed proportional to their butter content.

By the time Marks & Spencer decided to stab us in the heart and close their French stores (over some futile reason like not making any profit) it had become fairly easy to find British goods of all kinds in even the most ordinary of grocery stores in Paris. But when it comes to shortbread, I’d discovered that baking your own was even easier — and much more gratifying, too, in that call-me-Delia sort of way.

The following recipe uses stone-ground cornmeal to produce the supernal crunchy note any self-respecting shortbread should present. It results in an obviously buttery* but not overly sweet shortbread that you may choose to grace with a hint of vanilla or citrus zest. There is no law against piling on the chocolate chips and dried fruits and nuts and bells and whistles, but I am of the mind that simple is best.

* Do use the very best butter you can find; if there is one recipe that will showcase it in all its glory, this is it.

Shortbread

- 150 grams (5 1/3 ounces or 2/3 cup) top-quality European-style semi-salted butter (I use Bordier’s beurre demi-sel; substitute top-quality European-style unsalted butter, plus a fat pinch of fleur de sel or kosher salt)
- 70 grams (1/3 cup) sugar
- The seeds scraped from one vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon (loosely packed) freshly grated, finely chopped citrus zest from an organic fruit
- 70 grams (7 tablespoons) stone-ground cornmeal (in France, Italian épiceries and organic stores sell it as farine de maïs or polenta)
- 150 grams (1 1/4 cup) all-purpose flour, sifted

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F)

In the bowl of a food processor (or by hand, in a medium mixing-bowl, with a sturdy rubber spatula) cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla or zest, if using. Add the cornmeal and mix until combined. Add the flour and process until just combined.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, knead for a few seconds until smooth, and gather into a ball. Press the dough with the heels of your hands into a pan (or see note below), preferably nonstick with a removable bottom: I use a fluted rectangular tart pan like this one, but a 20-cm (8-inch) round pan would work too. Level out the surface with the back of a tablespoon, prick holes all over the dough* (I use my chocolate dipping fork), and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until lightly golden.

Transfer to a cooling rack, mark rectangular or square or triangular pieces using a sharp knife* (be gentle so as not to ruin the nonstick coating of your pan) while still hot and malleable, and let cool completely. Separate the pieces and serve. Try to exercise restraint, for shortbread tastes even better the next day.

* Please do not try to make the holes or the pieces too regular. It is their very imperfection that makes them appealing.

Note: Alternatively, you can spread the dough thickly on a lightly floured surface, cut out shapes using a cookie cutter, and arrange them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Reduce the baking time accordingly.

  • http://www.cforcooking.com Jeff

    Hey…bacon with breakfast is an incredible thing!

  • http://www.maminaclaude.canalblog.com/ mamina

    Ils sont beaux, très beaux. C’est un régal anglais… mieux que la mint sauce!

  • http://alithinks.com Alison

    Supernal? I just learned a new word!

  • http://www.aminglingoftastes.com Julie

    Now I understand why you’re such a good writer in two languages. One English food that I love is digestive biscuits. The whole wheat ones. I can get them at the grocery store in America, but you’re inspiring me to try to make them at home. Nigella Lawson has a recipe in one of her books.

  • http://blissinthekitchen.typepad.com/blissinthekitchen/ flo

    Even in my so non-anglophile household there were shortbreads at tea-time and for such a butter-lover like me, there are a great treat. As I see them flourishing on the foodblogs, the ‘madeleine de proust’ effect is working very well and I may give them a try. I used to be a big fan of the M&S shops too, and I regret them deeply. However, the fact that they are now gone makes a great feast of any overseas travel!

  • Claire

    Yum yum. Agreed about the butter thing, you’re so right to point that out. (Shortbread is actually a traditionally Scottish food, though, or so the Scots would have us think. Perhaps it’s both!)

    Just a little tip (perhaps unfair, considering that your English is so superior to my French!) – shortbread never exists in the plural. Not sure why…but you might treat yourself to ‘two pieces of shortbread’, never ‘two shortbreads’, just as you wouldn’t make a sandwich from two ‘breads’, but ‘two slices of bread’.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Claire – Yes, I do think shortbread is Scottish. Even though I used the term “Anglophile”, my parent’s enthusiasm is in fact for all things British. Is there such a word as Brit-o-phile?

    And thanks for the shortbread/shortbreads correction! We just say des shortbreads in French but then again the “s” is mute, so…

  • http://passionatekitchen.blogspot.com Silvia

    You made me realized I haven’t made shortbread in quite a while. It is one of my husbands favorites and when we were first married, I would always make some when he left on a trip so he could snack on it in the car or the airport. I am eager to try this recipe.

  • Jake

    Those look delicious.

    On the topic of hot cross buns: I was just reading about them in Elizabeth David’s “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” and her solution to your cross dilemma is to just cut a cross in the unbaked bun and leave it at that:

    “To emphasize the cross, some bakers superimpose strips of candied peel or little bands of ordinary pastry. Both these methods involve unnecessary fiddling work. Neither, in my experience, is successful. There is no need to worry overmuch about the exactitude of the cross. You have made the symbolic gesture. That is what counts.”

  • http://www.foodsource-krista.blogspot.com krista

    I have to try this. I haven’t made shortbread in a while.

  • http://bluekitchen.wordpress.com Terry B

    Great! You’ve just managed to create great pangs of longing for both England and France in this single post! But you’ve also made the shortbread sound wonderfully easy. I especially liked your comment about not making the markings or pieces too uniform. Part of the charm of homemade is that it doesn’t look like it was extruded in some factory.

  • Frankenstein

    My parents used to use French as their secret language until we moved to Paris and the little ones started learning French…

  • Claire

    Pas de problème! Et non, je crois qu’il n’y a pas un mot qui corresponde à ‘anglophile’, nous en avons besoin, c’est vrai…alors ‘britophile’ – pourquoi pas?

  • http://elegantsufficiency.typepad.com Stephanie

    mmm… shortbread makes me nervous! my one and only time preparing it was in Scotland: I was a very green graduate of a brief Cordon Bleu course in London and had taken a cooking job with a wealthy English family who were holidaying on their sporting estate north of Inverness. My shortbread was just one of a platoon of failures through the 4-week job relieving the family’s permanent cook. I think it reached the point where I was so nervous about upsetting the haughty mistress of the house that I couldn’t think straight, measure correctly, sear without burning, roast without overcooking, simmer without boiling, bake without catastrophe! Who knows what I did with the shortbread but, from memory, it melted across the baking tray in a dispiriting mess! But I’m going to get back on the horse. I’m going to try your version. I think I’m ready, finally, for this terrifying endeavour!

  • MissV

    I wonder whether a non-stick pan would be truly necessary here, given the large proportion of butter in the recipe. I have an ordinary fluted tart pan with a removeable bottom that I suspect would work just fine. If I had some “fancy” butter, I’d test my theory. But, alas, I only have Land O’ Lakes. ;)

  • http://atasteinheaven.blogspot.com Vivianne

    Great ideas on shortbread. I’ll definetely try it at home!

  • http://take3eggs.com Tim

    Shortbread, shortbreads, who cares if if taste as good as shortbread does. Growing up in a anglo-pile home here in New Zealand all things British were the order of the day, shortbread, yorkshire pudding, steamed ginger pudding, and those christmas cakes with marzipan icing…

  • http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com ParisBreakfasts

    Lovely story about your “Anglophile” family.
    Is there anything nicer than to go through a doorway and be in another country?
    We have Myers of Keswick in NYC. (pronounced Kes-ick)
    You can always drop by if you’re missing your Bovril…

  • http://nami-nami.blogspot.com/ Pille

    I’ve just moved back home to Estonia after seven wonderful years in Edinburgh, and seeing your shortbread post brought back loads of good memories. Shortbread (and caramel shortcake or millionaire’s shortcake) were one of my guilty pleasures while in Scotland, I certainly ate more than my fair share of them:)

  • http://cucinadelsole.typepad.com/the_sunny_kitchen/ Nicoletta

    Lovely, I’m going to try them for sure, they’re my favourite cookies. Ciao! :)

  • http://marusya.lazarapress.ca/wp/ hungry girl

    Yes, having spent some of my childhood in England, I have fond memories of ‘Marks & Sparks”, from cardigan sweaters to biscuits…I adore shortbread, am always looking for the best recipe and look forward to trying this one…

  • Stacey

    Clotilde,

    I think I just read an article you did with the editor of the new Joy of Cooking…was that you? The article appeared in an insert magazine in our Sunday paper…

    It was a great article and I now feel I need a new copy of the Joy of Cooking!

  • http://myspace.com/richardbacchus Richard

    Those little penguins, I remember them well. There pretty abundant in my current bookshelf.

    Funny, when I first read Tony Bourdain, I immediately was reminded of Gerald Durrel, something about his relaxed style.

  • http://enveetusamayal.blogspot.com paati

    your shortbread looks butterlicious!:))

  • http://jessicabrogan.blogspot.com Jessica

    I have never eaten shortbread. Am I really missing much? I’m more of a cupcake gal and they just look slightly bland in comparison. :0

  • http://www.carablack.com Cara

    yummm…buttery shortbread…my secret sin. thank you for this wonderful recipe, clotilde

  • http://natureskitchen.blogspot.com The Anonymous Mama

    Just love reading this blog. I’ve added it to my links on mine. I think I need this cookbook for Christmas!

  • Rachel

    Your parents’ use of English as a ‘secret language’ made me laugh… mine did exactly the same thing with French (to the extreme frustration of my brother and me)! Of course they never counted on me learning French myself – or so absorbing their Anglophilia that I’ve been living in London for 5 years now with no intention of leaving if I can at all help it. Anyway – the shortbread looks lovely and it comes in perfect time for a friend’s birthday.

  • http://blackcealt.blogspot.com celine

    i made shortbread before and it was far from how delicious yours look!

  • http://lobstersquad.blogspot.com lobstersquad

    oh, it was a very sad day when M&S left Spain, too. I was completely hooked on their oat and cinnamon cereal. too bad.

  • http://www.beurreetpain.blogspot.com Honeybee

    I totally agree. English food has many treasures. On a recent trip to London, I stocked up on Crumpets, which I eat toasted with butter (preferably salted) and my homemade lemon-vanilla-marmelade. Sooooo gooood. My heart almost stopped when I had to empty my (messy) handbag at the security check at LCY on my way back and the man took out my crumpets. I had to hand in my lipsticks but got to keep the crumpets. Thank god.

  • Janine

    I have tried many shortbread recipes in the past without being blown away by any of them. This was different – Its AWESOME!!

  • http://cyber-holidays.blogspot.com/2006_11_20_cyber-holidays_archive.html Casey

    Haven’t been to England for a while now. But I do miss the English tea, hot cross buns and the Scottish shortbread. Delicious.Absolute delicacy.I haven’t tried it on my own yet. However, since I just finished my first trial of our traditional Peanut butter fudge, shortbreads are on the list for my next trial- Regards, Casey.

  • http://www.grignotebarbotine.fr Grignote et Barbotine

    Je viens de me mettre aux cupcakes et j’ai très envie de shortbreads, très tentants…

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Jake – I should get some of Elizabeth David’s books — love the spirit of her comment on hot cross buns.

    Stephanie – What a heartbreaking story! Hope your shortbreads turn out fabulously well now.

    MissV – The recipes calls for nonstick because that’s what I tested it with, but you’re right, it should work with a regular pan, too.

    Honeybee – Oooh, crumpets, yes, love those too! And I think I have a recipe lying around somewhere…

    Janine – I’m very pleased you liked them, thanks for reporting back!

  • http://www.lucysmomcuisine.com Elatia

    Corn meal in shortbread — a beautiful result. I made some with a big pinch of saffron and a splash of kaffir lime juice — try it for the not-so-sweet effect when you want something a little different for the tea table.

  • barbara

    just delicious! Have you come up with this recipe by yourself??

  • Ian

    Hi,

    Found your site by googling shortbread recipes! You have a wonderful attitude to food and the ability to inspire jaded old hacks like me. One suggestion for this recipe, to avoid horrible sticky palms and get a smoother finish, is to cover the surface of the dough with clingfilm whilst pressing it into the pan.

  • Dorothy

    Thanks for a wonderful blogg! One of my fellow French-students tipped me about it this week and I’ve enjoyed browsing every available minute since!
    Your Shortbread recipe is authentic, using the ratio 1:2:3: (sugar: butter: flour and replacing about 30% of the flour with cornmeal) but the ground cornmeal would originally have been ground rice or semolina (both with the same coarse-grade grinding as the cornmeal). It’s imperative to have one or the other if you wish to have the crunchy texture.
    Do you know about Petticoat Tails? Press or roll the shortbread into a circle, crimp the edge with thumb and forefinger to create a scallopped edge, mark the circle into 8 equal segments (triangles) both before and after baking and Voilà, vous avez des petticoat tails!

  • Tracy

    I just love your blog + all your recipes that I’ve read. Your delightful stories that you include with them, make this a joy to read.
    The first 2 of recipes I’ve come across (I found on some ones blog) originally thru a recipe on Punchfork recipe blog. On this site, people post a picture of a food they cooked + want to share. The Kitchn site showed a yogurt cake, attributed to you, + included a link to your blog. This other blog, raved about you + your recipes. I will be making both of the recipes I mentioned. The shortbread in either the petticoat or soldier style. Do you think I can use parchment paper on bottom? I don’t have a removable bottom pan. I will be back for many more articles + recipes, but I better prepare these 2 before looking at any others. I have some frozen blueberries just waiting to be used. I saved some when I made a blueberry oatmeal popover from the punchfork site.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thanks for the kind words, Tracy! If your pan doesn’t have a removable bottom, I recommend you either grease it well, or use parchment paper as you suggest. Happy baking!

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