Next time you have a sudden urge to bake, remember this: as long as you have butter, sugar, flour, and salt, you can make one of the most beloved, classic cookies known to mankind. And while the ingredients in shortbread may be few and simple, connoisseurs of the stuff will tell you—not all shortbreads are created equal. Whether you choose to carefully shape the shortbread and decorate with intricate, uniform scoring or simply slice it into rustic, chunky fingers, the physical appearance of shortbread is really only skin deep.
When it comes to taste and texture, shortbread preference is a deeply personal matter. Some people prefer a texture so tender that it's one shade above under baked, while others like some crispness with a hint of sandy grit. The same is true when selecting the amount of sugar, and more importantly, salt. Sweet fiends will want more, others less, but it's only as good as the amount of salt added to contrast and compliment.
For great shortbread, regardless of your chosen recipe:
- Sift the flour before mixing to help remove lumps
- Avoid over-mixing the dough
- Score the surface for even baking without bubbles or cracks
- Chill the shaped dough thoroughly before baking
- Cut the shortbread while it is still warm, for smooth, even slices
Click through the sideshow for tips for making two different recipes with two different presentations. One recipe contains semolina and cornstarch, which creates a crumbly, sandy-textured shortbread, in fitting with its rustic, chunky style. The other has a more tender crumb, complimented by a polished, wedge presentation. Feel free to adjust the levels of sugar and salt to your personal taste, and don't be afraid to add fresh herbs to the dough, such as chopped rosemary or thyme.
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About the author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @evillagekitchen.