After dinner last night, I wanted shortbread cookies. Part of this may have been the fact that my husband and I are celebrating Valentine's Day today and I wanted to have something heart-shaped.
For the longest time, I didn't understand the appeal of shortbread cookies. This changed once I actually had delicious shortbread (as well as other cookies I made last year with shortbread crusts). Good shortbread is crisp, crumbly, and tender, and not tough. You shouldn't need anything else, like sprinkles or frosting, to go with good shortbread, although you can certainly add complimentary flavors like citrus or spices.
It didn't matter that I was going to make chocolate mousse this weekend, and that I'd just made almond rice pudding - I wanted vanilla shortbread, and nothing else would do.
I did a quick search and ultimately decided to make the Hearst Castle Shortbread Cookies because I wanted to use my heart-shaped cookie cutter. I was a bit taken back by the pound of butter that the recipe called for, so I decided halve the recipe (although the recipe below is for a full batch). That's 2 sticks of butter and still just as much butter per cookie as if I'd made a full batch, but that's actually all the real butter I had anyway. I used a little less salt than the recipe said to, and omitted the vanilla bean. I didn't mix together the dry ingredients before I added them to the sugar-butter.
Always use an electric mixer when you mix shortbread. This is the single most important thing you can do to make your shortbread-making experience easy and hassle-free. The mixer incorporates all the sugar and flour into the butter thoroughly, and much more easily than you ever can manually. I've mixed shortbread together with spoons and the like, and even kneaded it together with my hands to try to work everything together. I used to prefer mixing things by hand, without appliances, but trust me - your mixer is your best friend here. You can even work your way through unsoftened butter if you need to, although it takes a little longer.
I patted the dough into a circle to refrigerate it. After 30 minutes, I rolled it out on plastic wrap. This worked very well with this dough, and meant I didn't add any more flour or sugar to the cookies. I'd already patted it out pretty thin, so I didn't need to do much more rolling to get the dough to ½ inch thickness. I used my heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out cookies. I mashed all the scraps back together, patted them out, and cut out more, and repeated until there was no more dough left.
My cookies were pretty thick, so I ended up baking them a total of 12 minutes on Silpat sheets.
These were delicious. The cookies were soft and tender, buttery and sweet. They were not crisp because I took them out of the oven before the bottoms began to brown. You can crowd shortbread cookies on a baking sheet because they have next-to-no leavening, but the baking powder in these did make the cookies expand a little bit. I think this contributed to the cookies' tenderness. The next time I want cute little shortbread cookies, this is the recipe I'll turn to.
- 4 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon table salt
- 1 pound unsalted butter softened
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
With an electric mixer or in a stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat again, scraping down the sides. Add vanilla extract. Add half of the flour with the baking powder and salt, mixing on low until just combined. Add the remaining flour and mix on low again until just combined. This will be a thick dough.
Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Form each piece of dough into a ball and flatten it out into a 1-inch thick patty on a large piece of plastic wrap. Wrap each patty of dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. When the dough is chilled, unwrap the patty and place between 2 layers of plastic wrap. Roll it out in the plastic wrap until the dough is ½ inch thick. Remove the plastic wrap. Cut the dough into shapes using cookie cutters.
Bake on a Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet for 7-10 minutes, until bottoms of the cookies are barely golden.