The Wikipedia description of shortbread is deceptively simple: Shortbread is a type of biscuit traditionally made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour (by weight). Originally recipes were apparently made from leftover bread and contained oatmeal and yeast.
If it really were that simple to make shortbread, the Guardian wouldn’t have needed to publish an article entitled How To Make the Perfect Shortbread. The variations are dizzying:
The flour: Plain flour, or plain flour mixed with wholemeal? Do you include some rice flour for a little added crunch? What about cornflour to give that melt in the mouth texture?
The butter: chilled or soft? Or even somewhere in-between maybe?
And beyond the basics, what about the extra ingredients? Ayrshire shortbread demands cream and eggs. I have read recipes for variations such as dark chocolate espresso shortbread and lemon chamomile shortbread, neither of which sounds at all enticing. Sometimes simple recipes are best kept simple.
Having said that, reluctant as I am to tamper with such a classic, the addition of lavender to this recipe certainly brings in an added dimension. I like it both with and without.
I try to avoid gluten and white sugar where possible, so my challenge was to create a shortbread recipe with healthier ingredients, but which lost none of the simplicity, flavour and texture of the original. My recipe uses coconut sugar which gives the shortbread a delicious flavour. I also used a mixture of tapioca and rice flour.
12 portions or biscuits
5 oz/ 140g tapioca flour
1 oz/30g rice flour
4 oz/115g butter at room temperature
2 0z/55g coconut sugar
Pinch of salt if using unsalted butter
1 tablespoon lavender, stripped from the stalk (optional)
Sugar to dust if you wish
1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2.
2. Put the butter int a large mixing bowl and beat until soft. You can use an electric whisk or a wooden spoon.
3. Beat in the coconut sugar and salt. If you do want to add the lavender, now is the time to do so.
4. Add both types of flour and mix until it forms a smooth dough. Add a little more soft butter if the mixture doesn’t come together.
3. Line a 15cm round tin with greaseproof paper. You can roll out your dough but I usually prefer to pat mine into shape in the tray. The Guardian recipe I followed originally suggested you roll it out to 1cm thick but this took a long time to cook, so if you are short on time I would recommend you roll it a little thinner. Put in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes.
4. When you take it out of the fridge, prick the dough with a fork to release the air and to create the traditional holes on top of the shortbread. Mark out the slices with a knife, but don’t cut all the way through.
5. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the oven and immediately cut into slices.
6. Allow to cool slightly and then transfer to a wire rack. Once cold, transfer to a plate and sprinkle with sugar. It will keep for several days… although it probably won’t have the chance to do so!