Mom’s Shortbreads

At the behest of the illustrious BrainRants, GranmaLadybug has graciously consented to divulge the recipe for The Scottish shortbreads we make at Christmastime, along with some tips and hints she’s learned over the years.  Rants, and anyone else who wishes to, can add this to their cookbook.  Happy baking, and eating.

1 pound best quality butter (salted)

1 1/3 cups icing sugar

4 cups all-purpose flour

Knead everything together until butter & icing sugar has infused the flour.

Archon’s mom taught me how to make the shortbreads by putting everything on her kitchen table. She put out the flour first, then the sugar and topped it with the butter. She kneaded it together; adding flour a little at a time as she kneaded the dough, until it showed cracks at the edge.

Her philosophy was that the heat of your hand melted the butter & sugar, and was absorbed by the flour.

I started mixing my shortbread in a large shallow bowl by hand, but when I started with arthritis in my hands, this step was done with a KitchenAid mixer.  Usually over-mixing cookies is a no-no.  This recipe only improves with over mixing, but only use a heavy-duty, slow mixer, not the smaller, faster, egg-beater style.

Pat the dough out (small amounts at a time) using the heat of your hand to smooth the dough out to about ½ inch. (DO NOT rush this step. Just use the heat of your hand to do this, and a light touch.)

You can use a wooden board, or your counter top. I use a marble board for this step.

Use a thin metal blade to get your cookie off the board onto your cookie sheet. If the dough is sticking, gradually add more flour to the dough.  If you have to use too much flour on the board you can get a floury taste to the cookie.

Now to bake:  Heat oven to 275°F (using a slow oven helps to meld the flour, sugar & butter.) and bake for 25 to 30 minutes with your oven rack in the middle of the oven.  The cookie should show a lightly browned bottom.  Most recipes say not to brown, but to us the resulting cookies have a pasty taste to them.

Mom’s always had a brown bottom, and they were so rich they made you want more.

We store the cookies in a metal tin, and they are guaranteed to go with tea, coffee, hot chocolate or just on their own.

This guarantee is not valid if you changed the amounts, rolled the dough out, used old decrepit cookie sheets…….etc.  I once shared a recipe with a neighbour.  Her cookies did not turn out because she used the bottom oven rack and really abused cookie sheets.

The quality of your utensils, and attention to detail is what will get you the best results.

Oh I forgot, you have to also infuse the cookie with a lot of love……………..tks Mom.

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Xmas Cookies – Rebake

Back by popular demand….  Well, only one person, but she’s the Empress of Arkansas, White Lady In The Hood – what am I gonna do??!  Lady asked if we had made some more of the yummy Christmas cookies, as we had last year, especially the decorated, look-alike sugar cookies we provide for our chiropractors adult “kids”.

Always happy to showcase the abilities of wife and daughter, and make you jealous that you weren’t here, ruining your diet, I took a few more photos to show you what may be the last time we do this.

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This is one of two Christmas/fruit cakes we baked, just before it got wrapped in brandy-soaked cheesecloth, to age.

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We’re still making the thumbprint cookies, with green and red glazed cherries.

SDC10501And we made up batches of decorated spritz cookies, Yule logs, cookie nests, regular and Maple shortbreads.  This year, the wife thinks she finally achieved the perfection of the Scottish shortbreads that she attributes to my Mother.

One of the Chiropractor’s married daughters (and her husband) had SDC10478a baby girl this past year.  We found a “baby” cutter, and included a replica of sensibly-named Alice with each kid’s batch, plus one un-iced one to the parents, for the little one to gum.  S D is “Superdad”, and his track pants, like mom’s apron, are a bit messy with handprints, spit-up, etc.

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This is the other married couple’s matched cookies.

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The third, unmarried daughter has a steady guy, and they’re looking to set a date, right after they finish their matched cookies.

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SDC10487The son, the youngest, is currently studying hard to be a pharmacist.  Here is his voodoo-cookie, first alone, and then with all the boys.

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Of course, each of them got a stocking with their names on.

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We made a few extra “men and women”, in case one for the kids broke, or was ruined.

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We made and decorated a few non-people sugar cookies as well.

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We “adopted” the sweetest little Chinese snowgirl, and made sure she had lots of friends to play with.

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And finally, tired and hot from watching others be creative, and from slaving over a hot keyboard to tell this tale, I kicked back and cooled off with a bottle of my reserve signature beer.

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CREDITS

Producer/Director – GranmaLadybug

Set Decoration – GranmaLadybug, LadyRyl

Assistant to Producer/Director – Shimoniac

And a little bit Archon

Gaffer, Bestboy, Gofer, Etc, Etc, – Archon

Photos – LadyRyl

Technical Assistance – GranmaLadybug, LadyRyl

Something’s Cooking

Baking, actually.  It’s a good thing I have a few posts ahead in the drafts file, or I wouldn’t even have been able to put out the desperate few I did, the last week or so.  We’ve been making Christmas cookies.  We two fruitcakes also made two fruitcakes.  I can’t figure out how to Email the second one to KayJai, so I guess we’ll be forced to eat it ourselves.

In the last couple of weeks, the wife and I, with some help from both daughter and son, have made up 80 to 90 dozen cookies.  First we laid in supplies, a flat of 2 ½ dozen fresh eggs, ten pounds of butter, two 10 lb. bags of flour, plus nuts, flavoring, decorations, chocolate, and stuff even I don’t know about.

We made up 11 different types – two different versions of Scottish shortbreads, three flavors of hard meringues, thumbprints, Yule logs, oat delights, several shapes of cookie-pressed spritz, some decorated sugar cookies, and a batch of ginger snaps.  I know ginger snaps don’t seem like a Christmas cookie, but I’ll try to explain later.  Each different batch yielded 6 to 8 dozen little bite-sized gems.

It all started because my wife is the youngest of nine children in a Bad Good Catholic family.   Well into her late twenties and early thirties, she was treated as if she couldn’t cook, despite her next oldest brother, a trained Chef, admitting that she cooked better than him.  For the summer family picnic, she was told to “Just bring chips and dip.”  For the Christmas celebration, it was, “We’ve got the main courses.  You just bring cookies.”  So she learned how to make homemade cookies.

My good Scottish mother taught her how to make real Scottish shortbreads.  The secret is working the dough by hand, so that the skin warmth causes the butter to meld with the flour and sugar, to produce a literal melt-in-your-mouth Ambrosia.  This year, instead of using white sugar, she produced a second batch with Canadian Maple Sugar.  If the Americans ever invade Canada, it will be to get those cookies.

The grandson is allergic to wheat flour, so she found cookies with no flour, not just for him, but he loves them.  Hard meringues are just lots of egg whites and sugar, whipped till they’re stiff.  Three different batches, all with different stuff mixed in, one got shredded dark chocolate and hazelnuts, one had slivered almonds and Skor bits, and the last received finely chopped glazed cherries and coconut.  Dollop on a sheet of parchment and bake low and slow, till firm.

Oat delights are melted chocolate, shortening, rolled oats and coconut, mixed together.  No need for baking.  Form into small globs on a cookie sheet.  When the chocolate solidifies, they’re ready to eat.

Yule logs, thumbprints and spritz cookies all have a shortbread-like base.  Yule logs are rolled to finger-like size and shape, and baked.  The next day they have the tops dipped by hand into chocolate and set aside to harden.  Thumbprints are rolled into ping-pong balls, dipped in egg-white, rolled in chopped walnuts and half a glazed cherry pressed into the tops, then baked.

Spritz cookies are dispensed by a cookie-press, so that they, but not me, are fresh-pressed.  Variously sized and shaped bottom dies give crosses, Christmas trees, and lobed discs.  These have colored sugar balls and other shapes pressed in by hand before baking.

While making cookies for the family gathering years ago, the wife threw out her back.  We had just received a flyer from a new chiropractor, working from the basement of his home, a half a mile away.  I called and he said to bring her over.  It’s 9:30 at night!  You mean, in the morning, right?  No!  No!  Bring her now.  We went over.  He cured the problem, we took along a card-box of cookies as a thank-you, and a tradition was born.

When the wife was forced to give up her family, because they were toxic, en masse, we needed somewhere to put all these cookies.  Each year the number of cookies given to the doctor and his family grew, as his family increased.  Sugar cookies were added to the mix, specifically for the kids, and the Christmas cake recipe was developed for the adults’ more refined tastes.

Sugar cookies, rolled out flat and baked, are bland and uninteresting.  As with so many things worth doing, the wife decided to improve on them.  We began icing them, not just with a sugar glaze, but with a colored, flavored glaze.  Bells are coated with a gold, maple flavor, stars, snowflakes and snowmen get white, almond.  I slather green, mint on holly wreaths.  Stockings get red, cherry, except for a white cuff.  I stripe candy-canes red and white.

The wife makes sure bears and reindeer look natural in brown, gravy?  No. Peanut butter? No!  Sugar beads, bells and bows, along with other shapes, and coarse, colored sugar, are all added to dress them up.  Their stockings all have their names in burnt-sugar coloring on the cuffs.  We cut out boy-shapes and girl-shapes.  The daughter, with the best eye, the steadiest hand, and the most artistic flair, turns these into representations of the kids.  Kids?  Hah!  They were when we started, 25 years ago.  The cookies have grown with them.

Two of the girls are married.  She made one girl-cookie into a young school-marm, with a book on the front of her pretty frock.  Another married daughter is also a teacher, but more of a free-spirit, so her cookie looked more like a hippie in a flow-y skirt.  The third was dressed in a ball-gown, with a string of pearls.  The son, the youngest, and studying to be a pharmacist, got his cookie with a pharmacist’s jacket, and his studious glasses.  One new husband is a painter.  His boy-cookie came with a paint spattered sweatshirt and blue jeans.  The other is a bit of a gamer, so his showed a controller on the tummy.

The kids have loved these personalized presents for years.  Even now, *grown-up*, they and their spouses still want the fun, and the recognition.  Pictures are taken and stories are told to friends and co-workers.  The family has built a Christmas tradition.  First they exchange and open presents, then they all sit down to pots of tea, and our cookies for a family brunch.  While making this mass can be a bit (lot?) of work, it’s also fun, and what we do to release tension.  The joy and appreciation make it all worthwhile….and there’s leftovers till February.

Oops, almost forgot.  We found that the chiropractor’s favorite cookies are Ginger snaps, so we include a canful, for him.  He claims he takes them downstairs to the office, and the rest of the family doesn’t even know about them.