The world may have gone mad for spiced speculoos this year, but, for me, Christmas will always be all about two biscuits: gingerbread, for decorations, and shortbread, for actual consumption. Easy to make and a genuine crowdpleaser, shortbread will keep well for several weeks, which makes it the gift that keeps on giving well into the dark days of January. Not that it’ll last that long.
Prep 15 min
Chill 20 min
Cook 30 min-1 hr
Makes About 24
230g unsalted butter, at room temperature
110g caster sugar (see step 2)
1 good pinch salt
260g plain flour
80g ground rice (see step 3)
Demerara sugar, to finish (optional)
You can make shortbread in a food processor, but it’s so simple that I generally just use a bowl and a wooden spoon – less to wash up. You do need the butter to be at room temperature, though; if your room is cold, or you’ve forgotten, cut it into large cubes, put in a bowl of lukewarm water for 10 minutes, then drain.
Put the butter in a large bowl (or the bowl of a food processor), beat until very soft, then beat in the sugar and salt. I like to use golden caster sugar for flavour, but white or granulated work fine, too. (Salt, for me, is mandatory, just as in porridge, but they’re your biscuits, so leave it out if you prefer.)
Sift the flour and ground rice into the butter, then mix to a smooth dough. Ground rice, which is coarser than rice flour, gives these biscuits their characteristic grittiness; it’s usually found alongside semolina in the supermarkets, or among the speciality Asian ingredients. You can substitute coarse cornmeal or, for a smoother texture, just make up the weight with extra flour instead.
If you’d like to make traditional shortbread rounds, line two 15cm cake or tart tins with baking paper. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, roll into balls and put one in each tin. Use your hands to pat it down until it covers the base of the tin in an even layer.
To make individual biscuits, on a lightly floured surface, roll out or pat the dough until it’s about 1cm thick, then cut it into your desired shapes. Arrange these, well spaced out, on two lined baking trays. Re-roll any scraps and repeat until all the dough is used up.
Put the tins or baking trays in the fridge, cover and chill for 15-20 minutes, until the dough is firm: this will stop the biscuits spreading too much in the oven (you can also chill them overnight, if you want to get ahead). When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/325F/gas 3.
Bake the shortbread rounds for an hour or the individual biscuits for about 30 minutes, until cooked through but not browned. Leaving them in the tin, cut the rounds into slices while they’re still warm. Sprinkle with demerara sugar (unless you’re going to ice your shortbread) and leave to cool completely.
Try adding one or several of the following to your dough in step 3: 75g chocolate chips; the grated zest of two lemons or one large orange; half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and a quarter-teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and ground ginger; three-quarters of a teaspoon of ground ginger and 75g finely chopped crystallised ginger; 50g dried fruit and 25g candied peel.
I love shortbread plain, but you might like to half-dip the biscuits in 75g melted chocolate (this gives a neater finish than dipping the whole things). Alternatively, ice them with 225g sifted icing sugar mixed with just enough warm water to give a thick, but runny consistency, perhaps flavoured with lemon juice and zest, or vanilla essence or flower water.