Shortbread, a Scottish traditional biscuit, is a medieval delicacy that is prepared using white sugar, butter and plain wheat flour. Along with this, supplementary ingredients like corn flour and rice flour are also a part of the Scottish Shortbread as substitute to enhance its texture.
There are many modern versions used around the globe that deviate from the original recipe. No matter how today’s bakers do it, the original medieval essence of Shortbread Cookies is still the same. Some may prove to be quite elegant, while others are just rustic and have a country touch to it. Do you want to learn more about it? Here’s a brief look into Shortbread Cookies history and their origin. Let’s take a look.
Shortbread Cookies: A brief overview of ingredients and flavor
Enriched with a high butter content, the Shortbread cookies traditionally are one part white sugar, butter in two-parts and three to four parts wheat flour. Depending on the bakers, some recipes follow the square ratio, meaning that all the ingredients comprise the same proportions, while others play with supplemented components like eggs, rice or corn flour, icing sugar and maybe a little salt too.
Many baking enthusiasts and chefs regard the Shortbread Cookies as the forerunner of all modern day butter cookies. The only difference being that Shortbread doesn’t contain any leavenings like baking soda or baking powder.
It has historically been associated with festivities like Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland. Shortbread Cookies are an excellent complement to tea and other beverages like wine, Champagne, hot chocolate, milk and coffee. Along with that, they make an exceptional accompaniment to sorbets, fruit, ice cream and many other festive deserts.
The Origins of Shortbread
The earliest signs of Shortbread date back as early as the 12th century A.D. That said, its proper invention wasn’t recorded until the reign of Mary Stuart I, the Queen of Scotland who reigned from 1542 to 1587.
The Queen, who the current form is attributed to, had a special French team of chefs who worked to refine and perfect the Shortbread recipes. Their 16th century cookbooks are the first historical artifacts, which stand as proof of Shortbread’s existence and their earliest recorded appearance, even though the actual origin obviously precedes these printed references by many years.
Despite all this struggle though, Queen Mary of Scotland and her cousin Queen Elizabeth of England both couldn’t enjoy their shortbread with tea, since it arrived in Britain after 1658!
The Original Recipe
The actual shortbread recipes contained oatmeal instead of the more elegant white flour that lightened the cookie’s flavor. Depending on the required results, bakers often used cornstarch to attain a dense texture while rice flour was used to give shortbread a crumby finishing.
These Scottish cookies evolved from biscuit bread in the medieval times, which was twice baked, and sprinkled with sugar or spices for a rusk finish. It wasn’t after butter’s replacement with yeast, that the biscuit bread transitioned and gave rise to shortbread.
Why is it called Shortbread?
According to historical records, the name Shortbread has two possible origins. Some sources establish the ‘short’ texture of the cookies to be the reference while the other group cites the high percentage of shortening or butter in the ingredients.
Go here to see a great heart shaped shortbread cookie recipe.