Shortbread cookies are my absolute favorite pastry to bake. Not only easy on the wallet, they tend to have a favorable reception at parties and my boyfriend simply adores them. Though, I’ve come to realize my signature dessert has become a hit due to reasons unexplained by any recipe I have ever encountered. Through my own research and real life experimentation I’ve learned a series of rules and tricks which have set my shortbread cookies apart.
Many new bakers will marvel at the small amount of almond extract recipes list. This can lead some to substitute extracts, add less, or skip the ingredient entirely, misinterpreting the small amount as a signal that it isn’t especially important. While some aspects of shortbread recipes aren’t always ideal, calling for almond extract cannot be compromised. Ignoring the extract entirely will turn the shortbread into mild sugar cookies, while substituting almond for any other flavor will just make the cookies taste and look differently than desired. Furthermore, attempting to add extra extract will not assist in taste, but make them unfavorable bold. Experimenting with different tastes and aesthetics is always encouraged in baking, but if you do want the experience to end with shortbread cookies, you need about half a teaspoon of almond extract per 30 cookies with no exceptions.
Refrigerating The Dough
Some aspects of science fascinate me, but I couldn’t tell you why refrigerating shortbread dough over night keeps cookies from losing their shape while baking. I will tell you that of the dozens of times I have made these cookies, refrigerating the dough has always made a difference. If you can’t refrigerate the dough over night, letting it chill for about 4-6 hours will still improve the outcome.
Greased Cookie Sheets
Common recipes will suggest refraining from using butter on cookie sheets, however, every time I do this my shortbread cookies will be more difficult to remove. I always butter my cookie sheets by cutting about a half inch of butter and spreading it along the sheet with a napkin. This has never compromised the taste and texture of my shortbread cookies and only ensures they remain intact.
Less is More
Baking shortbread cookies has shown me that smaller cookies are easier to manage. Firstly, even half inch cookies will enlarge by more than half of their original size, depending on how long you allow them to bake. Secondly, larger cookies will break or crack much more easily than their smaller counterparts. I suggest rolling a ball about one inch in diameter and flattening it slightly.
Perhaps I’m a cookie perfectionist or have an unnatural immunity to raw dough, but I’ve always loved experimenting with baking time. This has become especially helpful with cookies which are supposed to have a very specific texture that over baking, even by mere minutes, can ruin. Typically, a recipe for shortbread will call for 14-18 minutes of baking time after preheating an oven to about 350 degrees. However, always following these directions can be the difference between an alright pastry and a buttery testament to edible wonderment.
In my experience with shortbread cookies, I have consistently found that waiting the suggested 14-18 minutes will make them harder than desired. Therefore, after preheating my oven for about twenty minutes, I bake my shortbread cookies for about 12 minutes instead. Ovens will differ from one another and therefore cooking times may alter slightly, but I’ve found baking shortbread cookies a few minutes less than what is specified in the directions will produce a much softer and buttery cookie. Shortbread cookies don’t contain eggs, so under baking will always be more ideal than the alternative.
One type of shortbread pastry is known as a “thumbprint”, made exactly like any other shortbread cookie with the added instruction to indent the center so jam may be used as filling. One common mistake is for beginner bakers to press down too far, their rational being that more jam will fit that way. Only press your finger half of the height of the cookie; enough jam will fit and the cookie won’t break or leak that way.
My Shortbread Cookie Recipe (for reference)
(makes about 18 cookies)
- 2/3 cups of softened butter
- 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons white sugar
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Mix the butter, sugar, and flour until a smooth consistency is reached.
- Add and evenly mix in the almond extract.
- Roll the dough into small (one inch) balls and place on a buttered cookie sheet.
- Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes.
years of personal experience