Homemade Gifts For the Holidays: Shortbread

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No matter how you’re celebrating this December, the holidays are a time for sharing, giving and receiving gifts to and from the people that are important to you. You may have your major gift –giving all figured out, but if you’re looking for small gifts, tokens of appreciation that you can share with your letter carrier, paperboy or girl, shopkeepers and fellow office workers, look no further than good the old fashioned shortbread cookie.

Shortbread hails from Scotland and since the eighteenth century has been closely related to Christmas and the Scottish News Eve celebration, Hogmanay. As the traditional recipe calls for a lot of butter and sugar, it was considered a rather expensive treat and thus generally reserved for special occasions. The name shortbread refers to its texture; short is a term in baking that refers to a crumbly texture, one that is a result of baking with a high fat content. It’s why the vegetable oil alternative to lard is called shortening- because it keeps the piecrust short and flaky. A good shortbread is short and crumbly and rich while still tender.

 

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Shortbread is incredibly easy to make, literally easy as one, two three; one part sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. Because shortbread is such a simple recipe, there are innumerable variations on this classic; chocolate, lemon, nuts, ginger, cranberries… there is almost no limit. And over the years people have been tinkering with the texture too, (gasp!) adding leavening agents like baking powder, or different flours like rice flour, or corn starch to lighten things up a bit, and even whipping the batter to produce Melting Moments, those darling little round cookies with a tiny piece of green or red candied cherry on top. There are also dairy-free versions too, like this tasty shortbread from loving it vegan, perfect for your vegan, or dairy-intolerant friends.

 

Yes Virginia, there is a vegan shortbread

Yes Virginia, there is a vegan shortbread

 

If you are making shortbread as a gift it might be nice to include a few varieties and give a little selection pack. One of the best ways to give a small package of shortbread is to use a ceramic shortbread pan. This is very cool because you can make just enough dough to fit perfectly in the pan, and you don’t have to mess around with cookie cutters or worrying about making perfect shapes. The pan is divided into eight little sections called petticoat tails, and a lovely design is embossed in the ceramic, resulting in a rather beautiful finished product.

 

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After cooling for a few minutes the shortbread is removed from the pan and cut into the designated shapes while still warm. One pan yields eight petticoat tails so if you made, say, one pan of classic shortbread, one with ginger and one with ground pecan, for example, you could gift –wrap a little variety pack. Three pans would give you twenty-four pieces, so a nice, meaningful gift for eight of your favourite people in your neighbourhood.

 

mmm-melting moments!

mmm-melting moments!

Of course you could also roll out your dough into a large circle and just cut out the petticoat tails yourself. Or flatten the dough in a parchment-lined pan and cut out fingers. Whether you opt for the ceramic pan petticoat tails or make traditional rounds or shortbread fingers, whether you make ‘em spicy with ginger or nutty or lofty or humble or high-falutin’, just remember to make a pan for you and your family too!

 

Classic Shortbread

2 oz sugar

4 oz butter

6 oz flour

Pre-heat oven to 375 F. Beat the sugar and butter together until smooth. Stir in the flour to get a smooth paste. Roll out dough to ½ inch thickness. Cut out shapes. Chill for twenty minutes. Bake 15-20 min or until a very pale golden colour. Cool on wire rack.

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