Shortbread is elegant comfort food. Get the recipe for these classic cookies from pastry chef Larissa Raphael. Photo by Saidi Granados | THE NIBBLE.
The History of Shortbread Cookies
Page 2: Old & New Shortbread Style
The cookies are baked at a low temperature to prevent browning. Originally, shortbread was baked in a large round, a throwback to ancient New Year’s cakes that were symbols of the sun (from the earlier days of sun worship—the edges are traditionally “notched” by pinching with the finger and thumb, thought to symbolize the sun’s rays).
One of Biscottea’s five tea-infused shortbreads,
That large round was then broken down into triangles or “petticoat tails.” No, Scottish petticoats don’t have pointed hems (what are known as “handkerchief points” in the dressmaking trade). They are so called because Mary Queen of Scots’ French chefs modified the original large rounds by scoring them into triangles so they could be broken into individual servings; they called them “petit gautelles” (small cakes). The name was gradually anglicized into petticoat tails. (See the photo above.)
Today, you’ll find shortbread baked in every traditional cookie shape, including rounds, squares, hearts and fingers. Some are decorated with fork points (or, like Emily’s Cookies below, with tine prints). Some are pressed with fancy molds that have elaborate designs, including family crests.
Over time, Scottish shortbread recipes were variously flavored with almonds, chocolate chips, cinnamon, ginger, lemon, orange and vanilla. Scotland has its regional shortbread variations as well. In the Shetland Islands and Orkney Islands, for example, caraway seeds are added to the recipe, and the cookie is called “Bride’s Bonn.” At Christmas, a variation is made with citrus peel and almonds.
Modern bakers have brought the recipe into the 21st century. For example, Emily Kiechel of Emily’s Cookies in Brooklyn, New York bakes shortbread in Black Pepper & Maize, Espresso Chocolate, Ginger Cacao, Green Tea, Spicy Chocolate and Vanilla Sea Salt. How good are they? Oh...they’re the best cookies we’ve had this year, and a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week.
Photo: Chocolate Espresso shortbread from Emily’s Cookies.
Biscottea, another Top Pick Of The Week, makes a shortbread line infused with five different types of tea: African Honeybush Tea Shortbread, Blueberry Shortbread with Organic White Tea, Chai Shortbread with Organic Chai Spices, Earl Grey Shortbread with Darjeeling Tea and Mint Tea with Organic Peppermint & Spearmint Leaves. And, if that’s not enough in the cornucopia, their Biscoffee line features Cappuccino Coffee Shortbread, Espresso Coffee Shortbread and Mocha Coffee Shortbread.
As long as there are gifted bakers, there will be exciting evolutions in shortbread.
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