Shortbread ‘Bake Off’

Holiday season is the time for sharing and Peta of Peta Eats is sharing a dozen cookies, some classics and some of her own, from all over the world with us.

I was thrilled to see that this months Daring Baker’s was Christmas baking!  I love Christmas baking!  It is the one time of the year where there is a ‘good excuse’ to make 15 different cookies and squares without feeling guilty!

Peta provided us with 12 different recipes to choose from, something for each of the “12 Days for Christmas’.  Our requirement was to pick at least one of the recipes provided and one of our own favourite Christmas treats.   Of the recipes provided I chose to make the Brown Butter Shortbread.  I chose the shortbread because I thought it would be fun to make a different version of shortbread then we are used to.  Around here it just isn’t Christmas without Mom’s Shortbread.  Regular readers are probably thinking, ‘your Mom’s shortbread?’ Yep! There are 2 things Mom bakes, her famous Rice Crispy Squares and her amazing Shortbread. She will generally make a Rice Crispy Square when ever the request is made, BUT will only make her shortbread at Christmas.  Thank goodness she makes A LOT, they freeze well and last well into the new year.

I will start with Mom’s Shortbread in this “Shortbread Bake Off”

Mom’s Christmas Shortbread

½ cup cornstarch
½ cup icing sugar
1 cup flour
¾ cup butter
red and green cherries

Directions:

1. Chop candied cherries into small pieces

2. In a large bowl measure your butter

3. Sift in remaining ingredients

4.  Blend until soft and smooth.  (Sidenote: you could use a spoon, Mom uses her hands to mush is all together.  She has never done it any other way and they are ALWAYS amazing, so why mess with perfection)

It will be crumbly, but keep going…

This is what you are looking for

5. Shape dough into small balls, place approximately 1 inch apart.

6. Press with a floured fork

7. Top with a chopped cherry

8. Bake at 300 F for 20-25 mins or until the edges start to turn golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.

Look at that! Amazing as always!

Mom’s shortbread are like none I have had before.  She refers to them as being ‘very short’.  They are not very sweet as you might assume from a cookie.  They have a much more dense texture then most shortbread I have tried, like the whipped ones and rolled varieties. Despite the ‘snap’ when you bite into it and the ‘dense’ texture they simply melt in your mouth, they are the best shortbread ever! Now, having said all that, I have yet to find someone who can duplicate this recipe and get it to taste like Mom’s.  It is not like she is withholding a secret ingredient because I watch her time and time again.  I have just come to accept that it is ‘Mom’s Love’ that makes them so darn good!

Now onto the Brown Butter Shortbread, they have a tough act to follow.  I had worked with brown butter once before, on another Daring Bakers Challenge, Baked Alaska.  The cake in the baked Alaska was a brown butter cake, it was delicious!  I was excited to try it in a shortbread.

Brown Butter Short Bread

1 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons  pure vanilla bean paste
1-2/3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2 teaspoons table salt

Browning Butter

1.Cut the butter into small pieces and place in a saucepan over a low heat.

2. Melt the butter and cook until it starts to brown and gives off a warm, nutty aroma.   Stir from time to time to make sure the butter browns evenly. As it gets close to being browned enough it will foam up and you will see little brown bits in the foam.

3. Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof jug or bowl.   Set aside to cool slightly and then refrigerate until it starts to set again but is not too firm. It should be the consistency of softened butter. Don’t strain out the little brown bits they taste great.

Cookies

1.Preheat the oven to moderate 300°F/ 150°C/gas mark 2.

2. Line 2 large baking sheets with silicon baking paper.

3. Add the sugar and vanilla to the browned butter and beat until very light and fluffy and the sugar is dissolved.

4. Add the flour and salt and mix for at least 2 – 4 minutes to form a soft dough.

It seemed to go all crumbly

So, Mom resorted to her method of mixing

Much better

5. Roll into small balls and press with a fork

6. Bake at 300 F, until edges start to brown.  Remove from the oven and leave the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

These shortbread were ok.  I shouldn’t say that, as a shortbread they were ok, as a cookie they were pretty good.  They did not share any of the same qualities that I would associate with a shortbread.  They were very sweet and a little ‘grainy’ as though the sugar did not fully dissolve.  It kind of reminded me of the texture of graham cracker crust.  Once I turned my thinking around and thought of them just as a cookie, they were pretty good.  We did decide that we may, one day, try the browned butter in Mom’s recipe and see how it turns out.  All and all a good recipe.  It was fun to compare the two,  I think we will be sticking to our original shortbread recipe though.

Thank you Peta for a great challenge!!

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