Shortbread Beyond The Holidays
Enjoying baked melt-in-your-mouth goodness all year long
By Jane Dummer
Shortbread has been a Christmas favourite of mine since childhood. Mom’s recipe originated in Scotland and only has four ingredients: butter, rice flour, all purpose flour and fruit sugar. She always places the dough in an air-tight container and leaves it in the fridge for up to a week. Chilling the dough provides a slightly darker colour, a more pronounced flavour and a shorter texture. Family and friends look forward to these delights every holiday.
Across the baking sector we are observing that shortbread has become a year round treat. I believe with the resurgence of afternoon tea, an increase in independent coffee houses and today’s emphasis on simple ingredients are some of the contributing factors to the year-round increase of these crowd pleasers.
At Langdon Hall Country House and Spa in Cambridge, Ont. afternoon tea is one of their treasured services. Rachel Nicholson, pastry chef at Langdon Hall explains, “With tea, it’s important for us to look at the textures we have on the rest of the sweets tier. We have a few different base recipes that we play with to create a crumb that will satisfy and provide a delicious customer experience. In the spring and summer, when everyone is looking to eat light and fresh, I tend to use dough that will allow us to have a fine, melt in your mouth final crumb complemented with delicate flavours. In the fall and winter months, it is ideal to create a more substantial bite, still soft and tender but with a more caramelized, bold flavour profile. Our guests are always thrilled when Christmastime rolls around. We have found their favourite to be a traditional Sablé Breton; it is a beautiful and tasty shortbread.”
Sharon Macleod is the chief cookie officer at Mary Macleod’s Shortbread. Macleod has seen an increase in consumers’ desire for shortbread as an everyday treat and not just for the holidays.
“The number one reason is it’s a pure treat. Nothing pairs better with tea than a scrumptious shortbread cookie, and these are harder to find as manufacturers find cheaper ways to make shortbread, without using butter. Our consumers love that we use only premium ingredients with butter, sugar and flour being our core.”
Tasting Mary Macleod’s original shortbread cookie—childhood memories of my Mom’s baking fill my head. I don’t have a ‘chocolate tooth’, however I love their Dutch chocolate cookies, and the maple crunch is the perfect Canadian classic. The butterscotch shortbread bars are another wonderful creation. “We only used to make them from September to December. The bars are cut and packed and there is a lot of pan edging left over. Mary didn’t like to throw anything away, so she would store these to dry and put them in one-pound bags. Then she started to make us all fruit pies with the Butterscotch Shortbread Crumbs topping. Then she started bagging them and selling them to customers. They love them as much as we do and use them in a variety of baking applications year round.”
Last summer, a friend made me lavender shortbread squares. They were the perfect combination of lavender essence and melt in your mouth buttery cookie. It’s easy to experiment with flavours and spices with shortbread’s basic ingredients. Nicholson agrees and identifies the gardens at Langdon Hall are overflowing with inspiration. “I use the flowers and herbs generously in our shortbread. In the spring and summer I try to use the more delicate flavours such as marigold, rose and lemon verbena. In the fall and winter we try to use the herbs that will be available fresh as long as possible from the garden, often even after the first snowfall: oregano, thyme, and sumac, but sage is my absolute favourite!”
Shortbread can be adapted to a variety of textures, and by adding an assortment of ingredients it can change the taste depending on the season. I can’t wait to taste new combinations from inspired bakers, as eating shortbread year round continues.
Jane Dummer, RD (www.janedummer.com), known as the Pod to Plate Food Consultant, collaborates and partners with the food and nutrition industry across North America.
Editor’s Note: Bakers Journal was saddened to hear of the passing of Mary Macleod, founder of Mary Macleod’s Shortbread, on September 27, 2016. We send our condolences to her family.