A cherished teatime treat that has graced the world of baking for centuries, whether paired with tea or enjoyed at holidays and celebrations, perfectly baked shortbread is a simple yet luxurious delicacy.
In this article, we invite you to discover the rich history and exquisite flavours of shortbread, a staple in British homes that continues to tantalise taste buds with its buttery richness and crumbly texture. From its humble beginnings in medieval Scotland to its rise as a culinary sensation, the allure of perfect shortbread transcends time.
As you navigate the delightful realm of shortbread, the choice between homemade and store-bought becomes a personal journey, much like the unique recipes passed down through generations. Join us on a journey of culinary exploration as we guide you through the nuances of choosing this timeless treat. Whether you’re drawn to the tradition of homemade recipes or tempted by the convenience of store-bought options, let us help you decide which path leads to your perfect shortbread as we delve into the origins, best producers and key ingredients that contribute to the art of crafting the perfect shortbread.
Why is shortbread called shortbread?
The name “shortbread” is derived from the term “short,” which, in the context of baking, refers to a crumbly or tender texture. The word “short” has been used historically to describe dough or pastry that has a high fat content, resulting in a delicate, friable (easily crumbled) texture.
In the case of shortbread, the “short” comes from the generous amount of butter used in the recipe. The high butter content gives shortbread its distinctive rich and tender texture. The absence of liquid ingredients like water or milk in traditional shortbread contributes to its “short” texture.
A brief history
The term “shortbread” itself has been in use since at least the 16th century in Scotland, where shortbread has a long and cherished history. It was first made by combining leftover bread dough with sugar and spices. As sugar became more affordable, shortbread evolved into a more luxurious treat associated with special occasions and celebrations. Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have been particularly fond of shortbread, contributing to its rise in popularity.
Originally, shortbread was a luxury reserved for special occasions and celebrations. Over time, its popularity spread, and it became a beloved treat enjoyed not only in Scotland but around the world.
Finding the perfect shortbread. Store-bought or home made?
The eternal debate between homemade and shop-bought shortbread often boils down to personal priorities. If convenience is your top consideration, and you are lucky enough to have a source of high quality shortbread nearby, you may not want to bother making your own. However, if good producers are not readily available to you and you enjoy baking, then you might like to try our easy perfect shortbread recipe.
Scotland’s most prestigious shortbread makers
- Walkers Shortbread: Walkers is perhaps the most famous shortbread brand, known for its high-quality and classic Scottish shortbread. The company has been producing shortbread since 1898 and is still family-owned.
- Deans Shortbread: Deans is another prominent Scottish shortbread producer, crafting a variety of shortbread products, including traditional shortbread fingers and rounds. The company has a history dating back to 1975.
- Shortbread House of Edinburgh: This company prides itself on using traditional recipes and high-quality ingredients to produce a range of shortbread products. They are known for their artisanal approach to shortbread making.
- Campbells Shortbread: Campbells is a family-owned business that has been baking shortbread in the Highlands of Scotland since 1830. They offer a variety of shortbread products, including traditional fingers and petticoat tails.
- Island Bakery: Our favourite, Island Bakery, is renowned for its organic, sustainable and artisan approach to baking, particularly shortbread. Based on the Isle of Mull in Scotland in a rural farming area, the company is renowned for its commitment to using high quality, organic ingredients in its products. Island Bakery shortbread is often praised for its buttery flavour and traditional texture. Island Bakery shortbread is regarded as the perfect shortbread for those seeking organic and premium bakery products and the Lemon Melts are particularly popular.
Simple perfect shortbread recipe
One of the key factors in shortbread’s exceptional taste and texture is its simple yet high quality ingredients. Traditional shortbread recipes call for three main ingredients:
- Butter: Unsalted butter is the star of the show, providing the rich and indulgent flavour that defines shortbread. The use of high quality butter is essential to achieve the best results.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar sweetens the shortbread and contributes to its delicious sweetness. Some recipes use a combination of granulated and powdered sugar to improve texture.
- Flour: All-purpose flour is usually used in shortbread recipes. The quality of the flour can affect the crumbly texture, so it is advisable to choose a good quality flour.
Optional additions include vanilla extract or citrus zest to add depth to the flavour profile. While traditional shortbread is made with these basic ingredients, creative bakers often experiment with variations, adding nuts, chocolate or dried fruit for a unique twist.
225 g of unsalted butter, softened
100 g of granulated sugar
250 g of all-purpose flour (405)
1/4 teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Gradually add the flour and salt, beating until just combined. Be careful not to overmix as this can affect the texture.
- Press the dough into a 23 cm round or square tin, smoothing the surface.
- Prick the top with a fork to remove any air bubbles.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden.
- Allow the shortbread to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Food pairing: Shortbread and tea
Perfect for pairing with tea, the rich, buttery flavour and crumbly texture of shortbread has taken it from humble beginnings to international acclaim. Its enduring appeal makes it a delightful choice for satisfying cravings or creating homemade gifts that speak volumes. Embrace the timeless charm of perfectly baked shortbread – a culinary classic that captivates taste buds the world over.