Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tribute To My Maiden Name

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My maiden name is McAllister, so as you can guess, I have some Irish and Scottish roots. You would also know that by looking at me, noticing the pale skin, freckles and reddish hair!

One of my absolute favorite cookies is a shortbread cookie, yet I had never tried to make them. Silly, really, since they are so simple and next to impossible to screw up!

Before I share the recipe, here's a brief shortbread history lesson: Scottish shortbread evolved from medieval biscuit bread, which was a twice-baked, enriched bread roll dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a Rusk (soft, sweetened biscuit). Eventually butter was substituted for yeast, and shortbread was born. Since butter was such an important ingredient, the word "shortbread" derived from shortening. Shortbread may have been made as early as the 12th Century, however its invention is often attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th Century.

In the beginning, shortbread was expensive and reserved as a luxury for special occasions like Christmas, Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve), and weddings. Through the years it developed into an everyday favorite and is now enjoyed all around the world. Traditional shortbread consisted of three main ingredients: flour, sugar and butter. Today many varieties of shortbread exist, but most still include the traditional ingredients.

My recipe absolutely includes the traditional ingredients with a just a few other simple ingredients added to it.

Classic Shortbread Cookies

- 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt


In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.

2. Dump the dough onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes. Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with your favorite cookie cutter (I used a diamond shape with a crimped edge)

3. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet (I always use silicone mats when I bake cookies) and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges begin to brown.

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