Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Countdown 11 : Shortbread

Mary, Queen of Scots loved shortbread petticoat tails -from
I know you are all too familiar with the tartan decorated packets and boxes of shortbread which  seem to multiply to take over the biscuit and cookie displays at this time of the year. This crumbly, buttery biscuit was once so expensive, and considered such a luxury that it was only seen at Christmas and Hogmanay ( Scottish New Year) . Shortbread originated in Scotland, but it is no less popular in the rest of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world with British connections. I first learnt to bake shortbread because my late father-in- law, from Birmingham, UK, loved rich , buttery homemade shortbread at Christmas, and at any other time with a strong cup of tea. ( His favourite commercially made treat was a Scotch Finger - a shortbread  biscuit which can be broken into two finger and is still one of the most popular of Arnott's Biscuits classics) 
1. fingers

2. small rounds 

3. petticoat tails

There are three traditional shapes of shortbread - 1) finger /small rectangle; 2) small round : 3) large around segmented into triangular, wedge shapes, called petticoat tails. it is thought these were names  named after the French biscuits, "petits cotes", triangular biscuits eaten with wine . However, there is another story far more regal  ...Queen Mary’s favourite shortbread was cut into triangular “Petticoat Tails,” so named because the triangle wedges cut from the circle of dough were the same shape as the pieces of fabric used to make an Elizabethan petticoat, and the name for a pattern back then was ‘tally.’ Queen Mary’s preferred ‘petticote tallis‘ was flavoured with caraway seeds 
While I have noticed an amazing array of recipes for variations of the classic shortbread, for example, chocolate, caramel, macadamia, cranberry, honey and cinnamon, traditional Scottish shortbread remains the most well known. Walkers Shortbread is Scotland's largest food exporter.  
A good shortbread needs to have a crumbly texture and is traditionally made from one part sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour . I think a really good shortbread needs the inclusion of one part  rice flour or corn flour in its three parts flour, but that is my preference to achieve the "short" texture. I also like my shortbread patterned with a fork before baking and sprinkled with caster sugar when still hot from the oven - another personal preference because it just looks home-made  I also own a type of wooden "springerie" mould with a pattern of a Scottish thistle which is pressed onto the rolled shortbread dough and creates a lovely decorative surface. These moulds are most commonly patterned with thistles - what could be more Scottish ? 

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