Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Irish Shortbread

Lately, I've gotten all settled into a new routine.  Every single night for the past month and a half or so, I've started drinking a hot cup of tea after I finish eating dinner.  I was never really a fan of drinking tea (or hot beverages in general, really), but a month and a half ago I found myself drinking it out of pure necessity.  There's been this polar vortex hanging whirling around (I imagine it whirls in a circle, because that's what vortexes do, right?), and it's just been so cold.  I know it's nowhere near as cold on Long Island as it is in other parts of the country (my sister kindly reminds me that it's -10 degrees without windchill all the time up by Dartmouth every chance she gets), but it's been a lot colder than normal, that's for sure!  The fact that I am one of those people who is perpetually cold doesn't help me very much either.  It's not so bad when I'm at home, because I can easily put on two sweatshirts and fashion myself a cape out of a blanket to wear around the house (seriously).  The problem is when I have to go to work and wear real clothes and look like a normal person.  Even though the heat is on, let's just say that my hands get frigid, and by the middle of the morning, my fingers are already frozen as I'm clicking away on AutoCAD.  But anyway, I've digressed way too much.  The point is this:

I got really cold one night and I decided to see if a cup of hot tea would make me feel better.  It helped (sort of), and the habit stuck.

Drinking my night-time cup of tea has become one of my favorite things to do.  It means that I'll have something to warm me up, and it also means that the day is almost over and it's just about time for bed (I sound way older than I actually am).  I actually have been starting to crave a cup of tea every afternoon when I'm at work!  I never thought I'd see the day where I actually want to consume a hot beverage, but it's quickly become a routine that now feels automatic.  I don't usually eat anything while I drink my tea since I have it just after I eat dinner, but on weekends, I'm always searching for some plain cookies or crackers to enjoy alongside my tea.  It's gotta be something simple and classic.  Danish butter cookies (you know, the one's that come in a blue tin) are some of my favorite, and as of this past weekend, so is Irish shortbread.  

This shortbread is probably the easiest and most delicious cookie you could possibly make.  Isn't it great when those two adjectives come together to describe a single thing?  Seriously, this is one of those cookies that is so simple to make, you should mix up one batch every Sunday to last you throughout the week.  It's the kind of cookie that you could eat for breakfast with your morning coffee, or save for later in the afternoon to enjoy with a cup of tea.  It's the kind of cookie that will bail you out of surprise house visits (I don't really have any experience of my own with this, of course, but there's been a few occasions where I've noticed that a plate of shortbread cookies could come in handy when people unexpectedly come over for a cup of coffee).  Basically, this is a cookie that you will always want around your kitchen.  I mean guys, come on, it's shortbread!  Who wouldn't love a rich, buttery cookie?  

Shortbread is a super rich, crumbly cookie, which is made possible from the cookie's relatively high butter content (ok, who are we kidding, shortbread just has a plain high butter content).  Because these cookies have so much butter in them, compared to most other cookies, it's important that you use the best quality butter you can find/afford.  Now, I definitely am an advocate of being very budget-conscious when I bake for the blog (and in general), because I can't seem to shake that poor-college-student mentality even though it's been almost a year since I graduated (I guess that's the poor-college graduate mentality taking over).  There are a few things, though, that I like to "splurge" on, typically Silpat liners and real vanilla beans.  Butter isn't usually something I'll spend extra on, simply because I can go through so much of it in one weekend if I have a long list of things I want to bake.  I made an exception for this shortbread because I knew that if I wanted to make a really good shortbread, I needed a good butter, so I went with a European style butter.  European style butters have a slightly higher fat content than American style butters, which translates to European style butters tasting richer and more "buttery," for lack of a better word.  I used Kerrygold butter to make my Irish shortbread, and it was so worth the few extra dollars I spent on the butter.  You certainly can make this shortbread with your favorite regular butter, but if you can get a little fancier, go for it!  You can feel free to use salted or unsalted butter in this recipe, it's really a matter of taste.  I made this shortbread with unsalted butter, because it was what I happened to grab at the supermarket (out of habit, I guess!), and thought it was great.  Next time, I think I'll try it with salted butter, because I'm sure that salty/sweet/buttery flavor combination would be just perfect.

I loved how this shortbread turned out.  It was my first time making shortbread where the shortbread was the final finished product, rather than having it be part of some other more elaborate dessert, like a lemon bar or something.  It was so nice to get to make something as simple as this shortbread and have that be it.  I love simple recipes most of all, so this shortbread is definitely a winner in my book.  It's ultra rich and crumbly, and has just a hint of sweetness that is perfect for drinking alongside your favorite hot beverage.  You can also choose to use the shortbread as a base for other desserts as well!  I think a scoop of ice cream with a little caramel sauce drizzled on top, or some macerated berries would work really nicely with this shortbread.  However you choose to enjoy it, the shortbread will come through with shining colors.  This Irish shortbread is one of my new favorite cookies, without a doubt!

Irish Shortbread
recipe from David Lebovitz


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) good quality butter, diced and chilled (I used Kerrygold)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Begin by preheating the oven to 300 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven.  Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan or a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with nonstick spray.

In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and sugar.  Stir on low speed for thirty seconds, just to combine all the dry ingredients.  Add the butter, and mix on low speed until the mixture begins to come together in clumps.  Mix in the vanilla extract, and continue to mix until a dough begins to form.

Dump the dough into the prepared pan, and use the heel of your hand to gently press the dough into the pan in an even layer.  Try to make the top as smooth as possible.  Using a sharp knife, gently score the shortbread into 12 even wedges.  Use a fork to prick each wedge three times.

Bake the shortbread until the top of the shortbread is a light golden brown, about 1 hour.  Remove from the oven, and immediately cut completely through the score lines made prior to baking.  It's possible that the score lines may have disappeared as the shortbread baked; if that's the case, just cut the shortbread round into 12 wedges anyway).  Let the shortbread cool completely in the pan, and once it's completely cool, remove the outer ring of the tart/springform pan. Separate the wedges and enjoy!

Makes 1 9-inch shortbread round/12 wedges


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