If they were to have a shortbread round on Bake-Off, every contestant would try and put their own spin on it. You’d have three slightly different chocolate shortbreads, a caraway shortbread, a rum shortbread, a gluten free shortbread and probably a few weird and wonderful flavour combinations that some people saw Heston use once. These might all be excellent, and I may try a few of them myself. But they won’t be a patch on classic shortbread, done well.
This is the single simplest recipe there is and probably ever will be. The worst thing you can do is change it. Yes I know, people like to add rice flour or corn flour or double the butter to make it extra short, but you shouldn’t. Not until you’ve made the perfect shortbread with the golden ratio of 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts sugar, following these steps below. Only then can you judge the other versions truly against the original. And I suspect when you do, side by side, you’ll find that first is best.
First, line a baking tray with a sheet of non-stick greaseproof paper. There’s no need to grease either side – the biscuits are plenty buttery to stop any stickage.
Using your hands or a wooden spoon, smoosh together your sugar and butter in a large bowl. You DO NOT want to ‘cream them until light and fluffy’ like in a cake – you just want them combined.
Add your flour and use your hands to bring the mix together into a soft dough – this can take a bit of work. Don’t overdo it, otherwise you’ll end up with cardboardy shortbread. After this, wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge. You should leave it at least half an hour, but up to 2 days.
When you are ready to roll, preheat your oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 2-Remove your shortbread from its cling film and place it on a floured surface. Sprinkle more flour on top, then roll it out (making sure it’s not sticking) until it is the thickness of a £1 coin. Cut into desired shapes using a biscuit cutter and place each your prepared tray. You can re-roll when you’ve exhausted available cutting space.
Once your tray is filled, prick each biscuit with a fork a few times and scatter them with sugar. Place the tray back in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. Think about it – shortbread is just pastry but with a bit more butter and sugar. The same rules apply and so the longer you chill it, the crumblier it will be.
Bake your shortbread, straight from the fridge, for 10-12 minutes. They should come out pale, but with a tiny little bit of colour appearing around the edges of some of them. Don’t bake until golden, or else you’ll have snappy, bitter biscuits.
With so few ingredients, ingredient selection is key. Sugar isn’t important – any caster will do. But go for a good local plain flour, and your butter should be of the “expensive and French” variety. You’ll see the difference.