I must admit that I’m not always a fan of shop-bought shortbread, or even some home-made versions, as I often find them too dry. This recipe, the original version of which I seem to remember my Mom cut out of a magazine or newspaper about 30 years ago, is a nice compromise between shortbread and a ‘traditional’ biscuit, being ‘short’ but not dry (unless you bake them too long, of course).
Other virtues of this recipe are that the dough itself isn’t too sweet and you can add just about any flavouring you like to it. My personal favourites are flaked/nibbed almonds and brandy, which are totally delicious together, or lavender, which is what I’m using here. (N.B. You need to chop the lavender flowers and leaves very finely!) Chocolate chips or any kind of dried fruit also work well, although obviously make it a bit sweeter.
The shortness of the biscuit comes from using a fair amount of butter, and the egg yolk is what keeps it from being too dry. You can use plain cake flour if you prefer your shortbread to be ‘refined’, but I personally quite like to use wholewheat flour (Eureka Stoneground, for choice), or a mix of plain and wholewheat, in an attempt to create some (largely false, I’m afraid) semblance of wholesomeness.
The recipe can also be halved by the way, in which case I still use a whole egg yolk, as it’s just too much of a mission to halve one, and it works out perfectly fine. The pictures here actually show a half-quantity being made.
As with most shortbread, these biscuits last fairly well, assuming they aren’t all eaten in a flash, and they also make a lovely gift when wrapped up nicely, as you can see from the Christmas version in the main pic.
So enjoy them yourself, give them away or even better, make enough to do both!
- 250g butter
- ½c castor sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1t vanilla essence
- 3c plain white or wholewheat flour, or a mixture of both
- Icing sugar for sifting
Optional flavouring additions:
Add any (or several) of the following – or anything else that takes your fancy really:
- 2T brandy, rum or whisky
- ½c flaked or nibbed almonds, or any other nut
- ½c chocolate chips or dark chocolate, chopped up
- 2T lavender flowers and leaves (not stalks), washed and very finely chopped
- 100g dried fruit or glace cherries, chopped
Preheat your oven to 160°C, and cover a large, flat baking tray with baking paper.
Cream butter and sugar well until light, pale and fluffy.
Add the egg yolk, vanilla essence and whatever other flavouring you’re using – in this case, very finely chopped lavender flowers and leaves.
Add half the flour and beat again, then add most of the remaining flour.
Work it in with a spoon and then your hands – it gets very thick. Add the last of flour only if you need it i.e. if the dough is sticking to your hands. You should end up with a nice, smooth dough.
Pull off small pieces of dough and shape into balls. Place on the baking paper and press down gently with a fork. You can put them quite close together as they don’t rise.
Bake for about 30 minutes. Watch carefully after 25 minutes and check underneath – they should remain pale, although the bottoms may end up a bit darker. If you’re not sure, break one in half to check it’s cooked through, without being dry.
Take them out the oven and leave them on the tray to cool for just a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Move the baking paper to under the cooling rack to catch the overflow, and while they’re still warm, sift icing sugar over them – as much or as little as you like, or use none at all if you prefer.
Once they’re completely cool, pack them into a biscuit tin or wrap in a pretty box for a gift.
© Alexandra Lawrence and Inspired Nourishment, 2015