Saturday, December 31, 2011

Simply Perfect: All-Butter Shortbread

Sometimes the simplest things really are the best. These cookies certainly prove that point. I first made them out of sheer laziness. I was preparing to make a plain cheesecake when I realized I was out of graham crackers. Not wanting to make a run to the grocery store, because that would entail changing out of my pajamas, I began searching for a simple cookie recipe that could serve as a graham cracker stand-in. I had previously used store-bought shortbread in the crust of a strawberry cheesecake with good results, so that seemed like a good place to start looking. After a bit of searching, I stumbled across a recipe that fit my needs: it was quick, it was easy, and I already had all the ingredients on hand. Perfect.

All-Butter Shortbread is perhaps the simplest of cookies. The most basic recipes call for just three ingredients: butter (obviously), brown sugar, and flour. Based on a little bit of research on tips for achieving shortbread perfection, I adapted these slightly to include two types of flour (unbleached all-purpose and rice), a pinch of salt, and a splash of vanilla extract. While I was expecting these cookies to be good, they far exceeded my expectations. They're everything shortbread should be: buttery and crumbly; tender, but still slightly crisp; sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. In fact, even David was impressed, and that is no easy feat. He actually made an audible "Mmmm" with his first bite. According to him, these cookies are "just like the ones you buy in those tins around Christmas, but these are better." Probably the most praise he's ever given one of my baked goods. I'm pretty sure I will be making them again and again. In fact, they're so delicious and so easy to make, they may become the new standard for all of my plain cheesecake crusts. And I can almost guarantee that I will never buy pre-made shortbread cookies again.

All-Butter Shortbread
adapted from

2 cups (4 sticks, 32 tablespoons) unsalted butter
7 ounces brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4.5 ounces rice flour
15 ounces unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Beat butter and brown sugar together on medium-high until very creamy, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add vanilla extra and beat an additional 1-2 minutes, scraping down beater blade and sides of bowl as necessary.
2. Sift together flours and salt. Lower mixer speed to medium-low. Add dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture one cup at a time until fully incorporated.
3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into one or more cylinder(s). Place dough cylinder(s) in refrigerator for at least an hour to chill. (Alternatively, you may roll out the dough to 1/2 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. I would recommend chilling cut-out shapes prior to baking to minimize spreading/puffiness.)
4. Pre-heat oven to 315 degrees. Cut dough into 1/2 inch slices and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 18-25 minutes, or until cookies just begin to slightly brown. Allow cookies to cool before removing from cookie sheet.
(Optional - Melt bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler or microwave with a touch of vegetable oil. Dip cookies in chocolate, place on parchment paper, and chill until chocolate has firmed up.)

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