There's no mystery to what makes shortbread so delicious - butter in excess with a good measure of sugar never fails, but diet food this is not. Luckily, this isn't a blog geared towards "eating clean," it's more about eating happy (and a good dessert enjoyed in moderation certainly won't do any harm). Once again, the draw for me is simple - it's easy to make, the preparation is quick, it's crazy tasty, and completely customizable. As rich and buttery as it is crumbly and delicate, this shortbread makes a great accompaniment to tea or coffee, and always keeps me reaching for more.
Most shortbread recipes you'll find are for cookies - but cookies can require shaping, portioning, rolling, and generally a lot more effort. I picked up this technique a few years ago while working as a pastry chef, where we used it crumbled on a plated dessert. At the time, baking our shortbread in sheet pans was a matter of practicality, but I quite like the effortlessness this method provides. Moreover, it makes the addition of ingredients like fresh fruit possible, which is always a huge plus in my book. The key to baking shortbread as a tray-bake is to make sure the bars aren't too thick - an inch is ideal; if you go much thicker, you'll wind up with beautifully golden-brown shortbread that's raw in the middle, and no one wants that!
Blueberry, Lemon, Ginger Shortbread
- 227 g butter (1/2 lb. or two sticks)*
- 115 g sugar (1/2 cup)
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla**
- 2 lemons, zested
- 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and zested***
- 1-2 cups blueberries****
- 284 g all-purpose flour (2 + 1/8th cup)
- 6 g salt (a little over 1 tsp.)
- non-stick spray
* European butter (defined by having at least 83% butterfat) is almost always ideal for baking, but particularly important in a dessert such as this where there are very few ingredients and butter is such a prominent flavour. Plugra and Kerrygold are the two brands most easily found in the States; I often see them on sale and stock up - thankfully butter freezes well.
** I use vanilla powder and vanilla beans because it's just what I happen to have in my cupboard, but vanilla extract works too - just add it in after you've combined the butter and sugar.
*** The ginger in this shortbread is quite subtle - for a more intense flavour, you can increase the fresh ginger to 2 tbsp. or add in dried, ground ginger.
**** I was very naughty and didn't weigh the blueberries - in all honesty, I just sort of eye-balled it. Normally in a baked recipe this would be a fatal error, but as it's an add-in and not an essential component of the dough, it doesn't matter too much.
***** While I chose to add lemon zest, vanilla, ginger, and fruit, you can make this shortbread with complete success using only the flour, sugar, butter, and salt.
1. WASH your blueberries, and pat them gently with a paper towel to dry. Spread them out on a sheet pan or baking tray and place this in the freezer.
2. COMBINE your flour and salt, and gently whisk together (a fork is fine to use here). In a separate bowl, add your lemon zest to your sugar and give it a stir - this allows the essential oils from your zest to permeate the sugar, creating a more intense flavour. (A step which, incidentally, I forgot to do - as evidenced by the pictures below.) If you're using vanilla powder or bean, you can also combine it with the sugar at this stage; otherwise, hold off for now.
3. SOFTEN your butter - I left mine out on the counter for a few hours until I could easily make an indent in the foil with my finger. You could also use a microwave - for this method I recommend cutting your butter into cubes and heating it in very short increments, stirring every 10 seconds or so. If it's particularly cold in your house and there's no microwave available, you can just melt it on the stove and let the butter re-solidify until it's soft but no longer liquid.
4. INCORPORATE the butter with your sugar and zest, using a large bowl. A spoon, spatula, or your hands are all acceptable tools. Using your hands is the fastest and most effective method, but admittedly messy - use a squeezing motion to combine the sugar and the butter until the mixture is homogenous. For a spoon or spatula, use a combination of stirring, folding, and smearing movements until the butter and sugar are fully combined.
5. STIR in your vanilla and ginger (and your lemon zest too, if you forgot about it like me). Take care not to whisk the mixture or beat in too much air - you simply want to combine the ingredients in these first few steps, there's no creaming going on here.
6. ADD half of your flour/salt mixture, and gently combine it with your dough until almost homogenized. Repeat with the second half of your flour mixture, and mix until the dough has just come together. Again, you may use a spoon, spatula, or your hands, but your hands are really the most effective way to make sure the mixture is fully combined while avoiding overworking the dough. Mixing the dough too much will create excess gluten, resulting in a compact and dense shortbread.
7. COAT your baking tray with non-stick spray and line it with parchment paper; make sure there's an extra 1-2 inches of parchment hanging over either side of the pan (you'll use these later as handles to lift your shortbread out of the tray). Give the parchment paper another coat of non-stick spray. It doesn't matter what you use to bake the shortbread - sheet pans, brownie pans, pyrex or cast-iron cookware all work; what's more important is that your mixture does not exceed 1 inch in thickness once spread out in your baking tray. I find that an 8x8 pan is a little too large usually (but this can work if you don't mind thinner bars), so for thicker bars I typically use a quarter sheet pan or an 8 inch cake tin.
8. DECIDE how you would like to combine the berries and your shortbread. You can, of course, do a straight mix - just be sure to get the shortbread into your baking tray straight away and start smoothing it in to an even layer quickly; the frozen blueberries will rapidly chill your dough and make it difficult to work with if you wait too long. Your other option is what I call the sandwich method - take half your dough and smooth it into a single layer in your baking pan; spread your blueberries evenly over the bottom layer, pressing them gently into the dough, and top with the remaining dough, smoothing out the top so that it's even in thickness. I use a small offset spatula here, but don't worry too much if it's not perfectly even - it's better to have the top of your shortbread be a little bumpy than to overwork the dough.
9. CHILL your shortbread in the fridge for at least two hours, covered with plastic wrap or foil. If desired, you can let it chill overnight or up to two days in the fridge.
10. PREHEAT your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
11. DOCK your shortbread all over (that's the fancy word for poking holes in it) using a small skewer, toothpick, or fork. When butter melts in the oven it creates steam - the holes allow it to escape from the pastry, preventing it from rising too much and collapsing while cooling.
12. BAKE the shortbread for 20 minutes, turn, and bake for 20 minutes more. I usually start checking my dough at this point - though if your oven is particularly powerful or has convection, I'd recommend you begin checking it sooner (better safe than sorry, plus your oven can always heat back up - shortbread isn't particularly temperamental.) You're looking for a rich, even, golden-brown colour over the top (the edges will be slightly darker), and when you gently press the center of your dough it should spring back - if the indent stays, the dough is still raw inside.
13. COOL your shortbread in the baking pan. Once it's no longer warm, use the flaps of extra parchment on either side of your baking tray as handles, and gently lift the shortbread out of the pan. If it doesn't lift out easily, or if you feel like it's sticking to the tray, run a thin knife around the edges of your pan and try again.
14. CUT the shortbread into bars, squares, or triangles of whatever size you desire. This shortbread also makes a wonderful topping crumbled over ice cream. Store your shortbread in an airtight container for up to 5 days.