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Shortbread

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Once again, I tried to recreate my mother's shortbread cookies, using her recipe, and they didn't turn out. They were so crumbly they fell apart when you picked them up. I'm very attached to this particular recipe -- she told me that she got it from the first boy who ever kissed her, whose Scottish mother was renowned for them. That's one way to get a recipe!) She made them at all holidays. Here the recipe:

1 cup of butter

1/2 cup of sugar

2 cups of flour

pinch salt

I've been creaming the butter and suger and adding the flour, chilling it and rolling it out and baking them at about 300 degrees. They spread more than hers did and they're just way crumbly. The taste is good, though.

I wish I could as her for advice, but she's no longer with us -- can anyone help me?

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I’ve not made shortbread in years, so I’ve gone and consulted books by Jane Grigson and Sue Lawrence. Both suggest a slightly hotter oven (325F) than you are using. Both also give weight measurement rather than by cup.

Lawrence:

4oz salted butter

2oz caster sugar

6oz plain flour

2oz semolina (Flour and semolina worked in together)

Lawrence warns against overworking the mixture. Simply knead into a ball and shape as you wish. She also says she never uses rolling pin, preferring the use of her hands, and neither suggests cooling mixture in fridge before baking.

Good luck!

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Try your recipe, do everything the same--but after you prepare the dough, roll it into a log (the diameter should be about an inch to 1.5" max) and wrap in plastic and then refrigerate.

You could also paint the log with egg wash and roll the log in granulated sugar before you wrap it up in plastic wrap.

Let rest for 4 hours in the fridge, remove the plastic, slice 1/4" thick discs with a sharp paring knife and bake as usual.  Report back.  Do not let them "color" too much.

Freezing the wrapped dough, then slicing while still frozen might help, too.

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Is it possible that your mother used powdered sugar and/or cake flour in whole or part without noting it in the actual recipe?

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For comparison, my shortbread cookie is 430g butter, 250g 10X, 1 T vanilla extract, pinch salt and 585g cake flour--10 minutes at 190 C (375 F).

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I haven't tried your recipe, but I would suggest you use bar sugar -- extra fine, but without the cornstarch of 10x sugar, and substitute 1/4 of the total flour with rice flour.  The rice flour has no gluten, which may not help your "crumbly" problem, but you can work the dough a bit more without worrying about making it tough.  The bar sugar melts better, and herein may be your solution.  Good luck.  Love shortbread, myself.

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It may have to do with the type of flour you are using.  According to Shirley Corriher's great book, Cookwise, cookie doughs spread more when there is more liquid in them, and different flours absorb different amounts of liquid.  It's possible your mother was using a higher protein flour -- try unbleached if you've been using bleached.  Northern brand flours (like Hecker's) also have higher protein and more liquid absorbtion than national brands (Gold medal, Pillsbury's)

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wow, great! Lots of good ideas to try. One of the things I like about Mother's recipe is its mathematical elegance: one part sugar, twice as much butter, twice as much flour. So I think I'll try Steve's log method first. Then move on, if necessary, to other possibilities.

I'll let you know! Thanks!

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How's your butter?  You want it room temperature, but not mushy.  I don't speak from personal experience, as I'm not a big cookie maker, but somewhere in my stuff I have an article explaining the importance of this for successful cookies.  If you'd like to know more, let me know and I'll dig it out and give you the skinny.

Cats

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As a matter of fact, I had pulled the butter out of the freezer, then popped it into the mike to soften it. It got a little softer than I had planned, sorta melty. But since I was going to refrigerate the dough, anyway, I didn't think it made any difference. But maybe it does.

I'm going back in the kitchen this weekend, and try out some of these suggestions. If I don't report back, send help....

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I made another batch last weekend and followed Catseye's advice and made sure the butter was cold. Ther was a marked improvement -- the cookies were still too crumbly, but much firmer than they had been. I also turned the oven up as Steve Klc suggested and I think that helped, too. But they're melting and spreading in the oven, and my mother's held their shape and even the fork pricks that decorated each one. So, I'll start working my way down the list of other suggestions. Failure is such sweet sorrow....

That's it from the shortbread factory for now.....

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B--I suggest you weigh your Mom's "recipe" out and compare it to others here, too--otherwise you're spinning your wheels testing things you can't quantify or calibrate.

After you have your technique down--then you can start playing with flour and sugar substitutions.

It's easy to like mathematical elegance, expressed in volume, in theory--but it is not a guarantee of performance and can hinder consistency.

And if you have one of those oven thermometers, make sure you take a reading of your oven--and compare see if it matches up to your setting.

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I am looking for a shortbread recipie that would be good for the lemon pistachio tart in another recent thread. Can anyone point me to a recipie or have one you can post?

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Here's my basic shortbread cookie dough:

430g butter, 250g 10X, 1 T vanilla extract, pinch salt and 585g cake flour--10 minutes at 190 C (375 F)

I could have sworn I posted this before--did you search? You could also grate some zest into this.

There's a very nice Breton shortbread dough in the Bau pastry book, as well, to compare.

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Steve, maybe the eGullet Recipes would benefit by adding a category for basic foods that appear as elements in many recipes.

Of course these things appear over and over in cookbooks . But there's such a comfort level when a recipe has been used by someone we know personally or whose posts we've followed on eGullet.

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FYI--here's one of my adaptations of the Bau "Breton" which might go well in that tart application:

160 g egg yolks

320 g sugar

300 g salted butter, soft

20 g olive oil

450 g AP flour

30 g baking powder

lemon zest

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I was just given a clay mold in the shape of a rooster for shortbread, or whatever, and I have a couple of questions.

1. How do I clean the mold? I'd like to do this since it's been in someone's basement for a while.

2. Are there any tips for using a mold?

My recipe is basically

1 pt. 10x

2 pts. butter

3 pts flour

salt.

:smile:

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Ooooh, I love shortbread and shortbread molds! Don't get me started!

If your mold is a fired ceramic, it may be made for baking in. Just wash it first with soap and water, as you would any ceramic dish, and let it dry completely before using.

But if you don't want to bake in it, you can press your shortbread dough into the oiled and floured mold and turn it out onto a baking sheet. Here's my recipe for shortbread, using my 9" round thistle-design ceramic mold (Baker's Catalog still sells it); it explains what I do when using the mold only to shape the dough, not to bake in:

SHORTBREAD

3/4 cup unsalted butter

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (using dip-and-sweep method of measuring)

1/2 cup rice flour (using dip-and-sweep method of measuring)

3/8 cup sugar

Position oven-rack at center of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil and flour round, thistle-design mold. Rub together butter, flour, rice flour, and sugar until dough coheres into ball. Knead until smooth. Press into mold from center outward, to fill all recesses of mold. Loosening edges of dough with knife, turn out onto light-colored aluminum cookie sheet lined with non-stick silicone baking mat. Bake for 20 minutes, or just until edges turn lightly golden. Remove from oven. Slice into wedges while still warm, cutting from edges toward center to minimize crumbling at edges. Cool to room temperature.

I oil the mold by brushing a light coat of vegetable oil on the mold, making sure to cover all the recesses of the design. I have never tried brushing melted butter on the mold, and I wonder whether that would be effective and whether that would make any difference in the taste. Anyone???

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Thanks, browniebaker, I'll try it out. For somereason, this is making me nervous!

Dave, my measurements are by volume, so I just wrote down the parts, hoping that no one would jump all over me for not converting.

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Thanks, browniebaker, I'll try it out.  For somereason, this is making me nervous!

Dave, my measurements are by volume, so I just wrote down the parts, hoping that no one would jump all over me for not converting.

I wasn't jumping, dear. I was asking. Sorry.

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Nooo, I didn't mean you. It's just something I've noticed happens. I am planning on converting my recipes to weight, but don't have time at the mo. :smile:

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