Andrew Merenbach Better living through InfoSec

Canonical shortbread

For my first foray into writing for quite some time, I thought I’d discuss something very important to me: shortbread, a versatile often-dessert that Wikipedia has described as a Scottish biscuit traditionally made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour. I have the spare tire to prove it!

With a quick search of the Internet, modifications abound. Other recipes I’ve seen online often use three-and-a-half or even four parts flour. Confectioner’s sugar (sometimes called powdered sugar or icing sugar) and corn starch often find their way into the recipe, purportedly to create a softer inside and flakier outside. A common baker’s habit is to add a pinch of salt at a minimum to just about every recipe under the sun. I myself enjoy substituting in turbinado sugar, as well as adding vanilla extract and sometimes cocoa powder. One may very well prefer the taste of such modifications, and this is quite all right.

Shortbread can be an exceedingly forgiving dish, ranging from sweet to almost (or maybe even entirely) savory. Before adopting modifications, I suggest mastering the base form and then making permanent modifications for a personal répertoire. How attainable is the perfect texture, inside and out, by increasing the baking dish depth? What about trying a lower or higher temperature? Does the flavor of even a pinch of salt come through overmuch in the finished product? Until experimentation evinces the answer to these, why take shortcuts?

Everything below is presented with the idea that you have some time and money to spare on experimentation until you can achieve consistently good results, even in the face of substitutions.

One other thing: be careful eating raw dough. We do it and it’s delicious… and potentially risky, even when no eggs are involved.

Recipe

I’ve broken the recipe into several sections. First is the basic ingredients, with only relative quantity. Second is the general directions, wherein the baking process is described without mention of oven fuel, oven temperature, cook time, or bakeware material. Third is a section on how I generally apply the general directions to the basic ingredients: proportions, cook time, oven temperature, oven fuel source, and bakeware material. Fourth is a set of notes from my experiences making shortbread.

Basic ingredients

General directions

  1. Remove butter from refrigeration (if any) to soften.
  2. Preheat oven (see quantities below).
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary with a silicone spatula.
  4. Mix in flour with stand mixer until it forms a more-or-less cohesive blob that pulls itself off the sides of the mixing bowl, mostly cleaning it. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary with a silicone spatula. If you try to remove some from the mixing bowl with your fingers, it should be soft but hold together.
  5. (optional, recommended) Refrigerate or freeze the dough to firm it up.
  6. When ready to bake, press the dough into a baking pan.
  7. Bake!

How to reproduce

Other notes

Things to try

Adjust cook time and temperature as needed:

Conclusion

As a science-minded person, I take great joy in distilling recipes into their constituent components and classifying them accordingly, coming up ideally with what I call canonical versions. Mastery over the foundational proportions of a recipe can facilitate spontaneity and innovation. Baking is simply applied chemistry!