This week I have been making cookies. And somehow whenever I make cookies I come back to the ultimate of cookies: shortbread. For many years I have been trying to replicate my Mother’s shortbread. Hers were the best I’ve ever eaten, ever. I have made batches and batches of good butter cookies. I’ve flavored them with lemon and orange and warm spices. I’ve enriched them with almonds, hazelnuts and pecans. I’ve added chocolate; bittersweet, milk, and white. I’ve decorated them with sugar and colored frosting, but none of them have ever come close to Mom’s humble little cookies. Maybe it is because I am going to visit my Mother next week in the nursing home where she now lives, I have thought a lot about her and all the wonderful baking she did when we were children. She was a master of dough; her yeast breads were sublime. Pie crusts were made from a recipe off the Tenderflake lard box and they were always perfect. She had the “touch”. Whenever I asked her how she knew when the texture of these mixtures was just right she would say “I can feel it”. And then she would let me get my hands into whatever she was making in order that I would “feel” it too. Over the years the shortbread recipe and many others have gone astray, but I remember that Mom used a little rice flour with the all-purpose, and icing sugar instead of granulated sugar. She also kneaded the dough a little before forming it into the little pillow shaped rounds that she favored. After researching many recipes and studying the ratios of flour and butter and sugar, I decided to have another go at it. I made a very small batch, just ten cookies. When I turned the dough out on the counter and started to knead, I felt a texture that seemed very familiar. I rolled the dough into a cylinder and cut the cookies into those pillow shapes. I placed them on the baking sheet and marked the tops with a fork, just like Mom used to do. Into the oven they went and I waited. After twenty-five minutes I pulled the baking sheet out of the oven and carefully transferred the cookies to a rack. I waited again for them to cool a little. Then I took my first bite. It almost made me weep. I was back in Mom’s kitchen where those little cookies were lined up, waiting to be layered between sheets of waxed paper and stored in the English-style cookie tins. This is my best effort yet; now I have to try to increase the yield because ten cookies isn’t nearly enough. So thanks Mom, for being such a good teacher and the very best Mom.
Shortbread ( inspired by my Mother, Margaret Smith Sinclair)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup icing (confectioners) sugar
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
Preheat the oven to 325F. Sift the all-purpose flour, rice flour, sugar, and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with a sturdy spoon or your fingers until the dough comes together. Sprinkle your work surface with rice flour and turn the dough out of the bowl. Knead the dough until it is smooth, this should only take 5 to 6 turns. Form the dough into a cylinder about an inch in diameter.
With a sharp knife, dipped in flour, cut the cylinder into approximately 1 inch pieces. You will only get about 10 cookies. Don’t be tempted to make them thinner, they will “slump” a little in the oven. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined heavy cookie sheet. (I doubled up my cookie sheets in order to avoid over-browning the cookie bottoms). Mark the tops with a fork and place in the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes. They should be ever so slightly browned around the edges but not colored on the tops. Transfer to a rack to cool. Then make some tea and enjoy the best shortbread cookies, ever!
|A Beautiful Mother|