A Short Tale of Shortbread

The economic troubles our country is currently struggling through have been truly devastating to many people.  Many have found themselves being laid off, receiving a pay cut or have had a lot of difficulty finding work at all.  Even those who are fortunate enough to have gotten or held onto a great job may be making the extra effort to spend their money wisely and making a few cutbacks during this difficult time.  It came as no surprise to me when I heard that even the Girl Scouts of America were making some “cookie-cutbacks” in lieu of the economic downturn.  Upon hearing this, being the food lover I am, I immediately had to see which of their cookies were being omitted from the selection this year.  Regardless of the fact that I don’t think I’ve purchased or eaten a girl scout cookie since I was a girl scout myself, over 15 years ago, I was very relieved to see that all of my familiar favorites would still be included in production.

Scanning through the list of the “chosen” cookies that had made it past the cut, my eyes fell upon the ever comforting ‘Trefoil’ cookie.  Yes, Trefoils are good, but compared to something with rich peanut butter cream or something covered in swirls of chocolate and coconut… aren’t they kind of plain?  How had they made the cut?  I’ll tell you why.  Shortbread is a true crowd-pleaser.  Soft or crunchy, cookie or biscuit, salty or sweet, twice baked or raw dough and spoon… everyone likes shortbread.

The reliability and comfort of the Trefoil inspired me to make a sheet of shortbread of my own.  It turned out just as expected, just as always.  It was sweet, salty, buttery, crumbly, and melt in your mouth delicious.  I divided the cookies into a few different packages to pass out to friends, including quite a few for Evan to bring to work the next day.  Needless to say, the dependable shortbread worked its magic again and was a huge hit at his office.  I love the fact that they even acted as a bit of an icebreaker with a couple of his superiors.  And let’s face it.  In this economy, winning a few brownie (shortbread?) points at work can’t hurt.

Reliable Shortbread

Inspired by: “Trefoils” – Girl Scouts of the USA

-adapted from Marie Simmons’ “Cookies,”  Williams-Sonoma Collection Series

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup confectioners’ sugar         -optional: 1 tablespoon coarse salt for sprinkling

½ cup granulated sugar                              -½ cup semisweet or white chocolate

1 teaspoon vanilla extract                           -¼ cup chopped pecans

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

Cover a shallow 9×13 pan with buttered parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter until fluffy and pale yellow.  Add both sugars and continue to beat the mixture until all the sugar is well dissolved.  The mixture should be smooth when rubbed between your thumb and forefinger, not gritty.  Add in the vanilla and continue to beat.

In another large bowl, measure out and sift together the flour and the 2 teaspoons of salt.  Gradually add the sifted mixture into the butter and sugar mixture while mixing on a low speed until crumbly, yet combined.

At this point, I find it helpful to allow the dough to refrigerate for about an hour.  The chilled dough will be much easier to press into your prepared pan then room-temperature dough would be.  Floured fingertips also help to keep the sticky-ness to a minimum.

Once the chilled dough has been pressed into an even layer onto the pan, use a fork to prick holes into the dough wherever you plan to cut the baked cookies.  This scores the dough, making it easier to slice later and helping to ensure that you don’t end up with a crumbly mess.

Sprinkle the pressed, scored dough with the coarse salt, if desired, and place on the middle shelf of  an oven preheated to 300 degrees.  Bake for anywhere from 40-50 minutes, or until desired golden color  has been achieved.  Allow the shortbread to cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before removing them from the pan, peeling away the parchment paper, and returning to the wire rack to cool completely.

Once completely cool, transfer shortbread to counter-top or a large cutting board and slicing along the score lines into desired shapes.  Then, if desired, melt chocolate using a double boiler and drizzle the onto selected cookies.  Sprinkle chopped pecans onto cookies while the chocolate is still warm.  Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

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