Friday, 5 December 2014

Classic Shortbread

Imagine your favourite shortbread. I bet it's crisp, buttery and melts in your mouth. Let's be honest, it's probably from M&S.

Well that shortbread - your favourite shortbread - is about to look about as appetising as a soggy digestive biscuit steadily disintegrating at the bottom of a cup of tea.

It's a bold claim I know, but the recipe below is for the best shortbread in the whole wide world, probably even the universe. I've made it virtually every Christmas since I was in Primary School, and I know I'll continue to make it until I can no longer physically roll out the dough. Even then I'll probably find a way. It's the type of recipe you pass down to your children and rave about to everyone you know, and at over 100 years old it's definitely deserving of the word 'classic'.

I've tried what feels like a million shortbread recipes, but none have ever come close to this one from Victorian cookery writer, Mrs Isabella Beeton.

Isabella Beeton was born in 1836 and is commonly known as one of the first cookery writers. She's most famous for her 1861 utterly enormous tomb Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management - 1,112 pages outlining how to run a Victorian household for the aspiring middle classes, with tips on fashion, child care, animal husbandry, poisons, the management of servants, science, religion, and industrialism. There are also around 900 recipes. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings, and it's seen as one of the first times recipes appeared in a format still used today. Arguably many of the passages are clearly not her own work so it's best to see her as more of an editor of the volume, but given how many other books she wrote it's hard not to appreciate the impact she had.

This shortbread is adapted from Mrs Beeton's Hand-Made Gifts and is truly ah-may-zing.


250g plain flour
1/2 (heaped) tsp salt
125g ground rice (you could also use rice flour or semolina)
125g caster sugar (plus extra for decoration)
250g unsalted butter


Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas 4. Mrs Beeton says to "invert a baking sheet, then grease the surface now uppermost." Basically, line a baking sheet with parchment or greaseproof paper.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl then rub in the butter until the mixture binds together to a dough.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of just under 1cm and using novelty cutters cut out Christmas-themed shapes. I used the tree from this set by John Lewis, and the recipe made 20 trees.

Transfer the biscuits to the baking trays.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until just going golden-brown around the edges. Leave to cool on the trays for a few minutes until they've hardened and then move to a wire rack.

Once cool sprinkle with caster sugar and serve.

I can't accurately express how much everyone will love these.

They're light, crispy, sweet, and ridiculously moreish. It has to be said, Mrs Beeton really knew what she was doing when including this shortbread in her books!

Everyone has a tub of Celebrations ready to whip out for when the inevitable onslaught of guests arrive bearing presents and Christmas cheer, but a tin of these will go down a million times better than any generic chocolate. They're stupidly easy to make and keep for a couple of days, so they're ideal to have on stand by near the kettle to unveil when you need to impress family and friends at the last minute.

As great as they are for sharing with guests, I genuinely wouldn't be surprised if they disappeared one evening with the family in front of It's A Wonderful Life with a cheeky glass of mulled wine. Plus, it takes so little time to make another batch that no-one needs to know the next day that the tin was temporarily empty...

So, are you a fan of shortbread? Let me know if you try this recipe out: this shortbread is my favourite bake (to both make and eat!) so I hope you like it as much as I do!

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