Shortbread is originally from Scotland, but like many tasty Gaelic treats, Irish people have shared a love of shortbread with their Scottish neighbors for centuries.
And the best shortbread in the world is baked with creamy butter made from grass fed cows such as Irish Kerrygold butter.
Shortbread biscuits are simple at first glance – butter, sugar and flour are the three basic ingredients. But trust me, getting the exact balance and ratio is key to baking success.
Shortbread can be flavored anyway you choose – lemon and thyme, chocolate and orange or even with more exotic flavors like lavendar or caraway. For me however, the best shortbread in the world is just plain and buttery, with a sprinkle of sugar on top.
With Christmas just around the corner and cookie swaps getting into full swing, I thought it might be the perfect time to share my recipe for shortbread.
So today is the day for Petticoat Tails. This unusual name is given to shortbread cut into triangles and decorated to resemble petticoats from days gone by. From the 12th century onwards women wore elaborate petticoats beneath their skirts, with decorative, frilly layers peeping below their skirts.
In Dublin Castle the dining hall was fitted out with low lying petticoat mirrors. When a lady sat down to dine she could inspect her skirts in the opposite mirror to ensure her ankles were fully covered by the voluminous layers of her petticoats.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Irish girls wore red woolen petticoats beneath their skirts. In some parts of the country custom required them to switch to blue or purple petticoats once married.
And don’t get me started on “petticoat government”. A hen-pecked man was always said to have been ruled by petticoat government. There probably was plenty “petticoat government” in my granny’s house, but really she was more of a wellington boot, than a petticoat kind of gal.
And so, after a little bit of petticoat history, it’s time for my Irish Shortbread Petticoat Tail recipe …..
- 4 oz (1 stick) of butter
- 1/4 cup of fine sugar (reserve 1 tablespoon to sprinkle over the top when baked)
- 2 tablespoons of confectioner’s sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon of salt
- 1 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon of corn starch
Traditional Scottish shortbread recipes use caster sugar and no corn starch. I like to use a little confectioner’s sugar and corn starch for texture. I find it best when using American flour, which is not as soft as Irish flour.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sift the confectioner’s sugar into a mixing bowl, add the caster sugar and butter, together with the salt.
For most baking recipes salt is added with the flour, but I find it best to add the salt to the butter for shortbread. Only 1/8 of a teaspoon is required for this recipe and creaming it with the butter makes sure this miniscule amount is spread evenly throughout the dough.
Use an electric mixer to cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.
This step takes quite a few minutes. The butter should be a few shades lighter by the time it is ready.
Sift the flour and corn starch together. Next add half the flour and blend it in to the butter mixture.
Add the remainder of the flour use your hand to form a soft dough. This dough will be very brittle and crumbly.
Use your fingers to press the dough into a 7-inch round spring form pan.
To flatten the upper surface of the shortbread, I remove the sides of the spring form pan and press the top with a rolling pin. Now don’t roll the top of the dough because it will roll over the edges and you won’t be able to replace the sides of the pan.
Now it’s time to get creative with your petticoat tail pattern. I use a fork to imprint a light pattern all around the edge of the dough. You can create pastry frills if you wish, but I find that much easier to do with shortcrust pastry for a pie or tart. This dough is so soft and buttery I find fork marks are the easiest.
Then I use a tooth pick to indent the dough in circular patterns.
Next replace the sides of the spring form pan.
Cook in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 275 degrees Fahrenheit for a further 15 minutes.
Shortbread is just lovely with a hot cup of tea. Rich and buttery it’s a perfect accompaniment for afternoon tea.
And don’t forget shortbread is a perfect base for many desserts.
Wishing everyone happy Christmas baking days.
Here’s the printable recipe:
Slán agus beannacht!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom