Monday, December 13, 2010

Shortbread and Tortoises

     Guests tonight! What to fix? It’s Bruce’s class and it’s after dinner, so that means cookies of some sort, easily passed, no utensils or mess. By this time I usually have tins of Christmas cookies put up. But there are none. The boys are eating a lot more than they used to. I could make a batch of Toll House Cookies every day and there wouldn’t be a crumb left. Our foreign exchange student has a high Asian metabolism and is trying to bulk up with weight lifting; he could take an IV infusion of cookies, no problem.

     I still have my Christmas baking lists from 1987. It was quite a tradition. I usually baked about 10-20 varieties and gave them as gifts. My parents did that when I was a child. My Dad baked, too. He was a Renaissance man. He played for the Cincinnati Reds in the 50’s. It was a brief career, prematurely ended with a hook slide into 2nd base and a shattered ankle. He went into banking, but he continued to paint and cook and bake. My Grandfather taught him how to butcher meat, too. I can remember “helping” him with my butter knife. He’d buy a huge portion of a side of beef and process it for Mom’s freezer. I got to play and pretend with the fat. Fun! Mom and Dad canned sauerkraut and ketchup and the vegetables that grew in the garden. They even knew how to reupholster their own furniture. To have those skills!

     I can bake. So…I think it’ll be shortbread. That was one of Dad’s favorites. He used the recipe from Betty Crocker, which is serviceable. I like to try others, though. When I was 21 I backpacked through the UK for a month. In Edinburgh I picked up a great shortbread recipe. Jean Torrence was an elderly friend. I was supposed to stop and meet her, then continue into the Highlands. Jean was so special, and Edinburgh so interesting that I never made it further north. Edinburgh is gorgeous. Jean had a beautiful walled garden and her pets were two large tortoises. She called them in a high, crackly voice, “Tor-toys!” and they would come running. Well. They looked enthusiastic. They liked her shortbread, and so did I. I’ll give you her recipe, but I’ll give you Dad’s, too. Bon Appetite!

Jean’s Scottish Shortbread

4 ounces each of:
Self-Rising Flour
Plain Flour
Caster Sugar ("Superfine" works well)
Corn flour (I used corn starch not knowing what the American equivalent was...maybe Masa Harina. I tried cornmeal and it was way wrong!)

"Rub fat into dry ingredients. Cook in sandwich tin just below centre of slow oven for about one hour. Cool a little, then cut into pieces and sprinkle with sugar."

I didn’t know what a sandwich tin was so I baked it in one of those neat stoneware shortbread molds.  A “slow oven” is about 250 to 300 degrees. 4 ounces are roughly ½ cup. Have fun trying the recipe, but if you prefer something more surefire:

Arnie’s Scotch Shortbread

¾ c. butter
¼ c. sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour

Mix butter and sugar thoroughly. Work in flour with hands. Chill dough. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough 1/3’ thick. Dad used small geometric and Christmas cookie cutters about 1-2” wide. Sprinkle with colored sugar for Christmas or decorate with fancy sprinkles. Bake about 15 minutes until just golden around edges and on bottoms only. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

     Oh, I can’t help it. One more. I like this recipe from a cookbook called “Better Than Store Bought,” from 1979 by Witty and Colchie and published by Harper & Row. It’s a fun cookbook. I don’t know if it is still in print.


1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ c. plus 1 ½ Tb superfine sugar
1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. cornstarch (I’ve also substituted rice flour…gives it a slightly crumblier texture)
1/8 tsp. salt (Omit if using regular, salted butter)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In the small bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is light. Add the ¼ c. sugar and beat until pale. Combine flour, cornstarch and salt in a separate bowl, then with mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Beat just until the mixture forms small, crumbly particles (I actually do this step by hand). Do not try to make a smooth mass.

Press the mixture firmly into a 9 ½ inch fluted tart pan that has a removable bottom (I’ve used the stoneware, a 9X9’ square pan, and have baked it freeform in a circle on a cookie sheet). Press with the tines of a fork around the edge to make a regular design, then sprinkle the surface with the remaining 1 ½ Tb. sugar. Cut the shortbread into 12 even wedges, using a very sharp, thin knife and cutting all the way through to the pan. With a skewer or some other rounded, pointed instrument, make several deep holes in each wedge.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until it is just barely colored an ivory-beige. Do not let it brown. Cool for 10 minutes. Remove the rim of the pan, but keep the bottom under the shortbread and cool it completely on a rack. When cooled, cut through the wedge markings again, divide into pieces, and store in an airtight tin.

I usually double or triple the recipe and press it into a rimmed cookie sheet (no removable bottom). I set the oven about 25 degrees lower and I don’t score the shortbread before baking. I do make fork tine pokes with the plan of cutting the shortbread into squares or fingers…kind of like “Walker’s” brand.

Guess I should get baking. I’ll tell you which I baked and how it turned out, tomorrow!

God bless you,

The Abbey Farm


  1. I must say it was so very great to meet you last night! The shortbread was delicious; your home just stunning (I secretly wanted to stay there and use my camera to get shots of the morning time on the farm)!

    Funny how you mentioned shortbread and studying in the UK. I studied in Edinburgh during the summer of 2006 and brought back a special recipe as well. I'll have to give it to Bruce next time we see him.

  2. Thank you so much, Melissa! It was great to meet you. I'm sorry there wasn't more time! I would love it if you have the chance to post the recipe here. Then we'll make time to get together. I'd love to hear about your time in Scotland!

  3. Suzy- I remember well watching your dad butcher meat (whole chickens, especially), make saurkraut and bake bake bake. Your folks were so special- I recall the last time I saw your dad, he was serving a frozen, fruit, alcohol slushy--- it was great!! :) And he gave me the recipe, but I have yet to make it--- such is the level of my interest in anything in the kitchen. Point is, your folks were so interesting and knew so much. I always loved to hang at your house, especially in the kitchen when your folks were making things!! love, B

  4. I have recently made a very easy, incredibly delicious shortbread.
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 cup (2 sticks) butter (salted--if you use unsalted, do add a half tsp salt)
    1/2 cup powdered (or superfine) sugar
    Cut the ingredients together with a pastry cutter or two knives. Do not over-work it, it should resemble crumbs. Press it all into a shortbread form or tin (about 6-8 inches in diameter) and bake at 325 degrees F, until just golden brown around the edges.
    It is so easy, and has become my favorite!