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.
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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 lavender or caraway. For me however, the best shortbread in the world is just plain and buttery, with a sprinkle of sugar on top.
Mary Queen of Scots enjoyed eating shortbread, and it was she who popularized it in the 16th century. Making these triangular petticoat tails is how she liked it, rather than the shortbread rounds we see today.
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 onward 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 .....
Ingredients For Irish Shortbread
Here's a quick list of ingredients. You'll find the exact quantities in US and Metric measurements in the printable recipe at the bottom of this blog post.
- fine sugar (reserve 1 tablespoon to sprinkle over the top when baked)
- confectioner's sugar
- all-purpose flour
- corn starch
Real dairy butter is best for this baking recipe. I'm biased, but I think Irish butter is the best in the worldd for a traditional shortbread recipe. If you use salted butter, then only add a little salt to this biscuit dough.I do not recommend using margarine for this recipe.
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 or Scottish flour.
I don't add any vanilla extract to my shortbread, since I want the taste of butter to dominate. However, you could add vanilla extract or almond extract, if you wish to experiment with flavour.
Remember there's no yeast or leavening agent in shortbread. Just three parts flour, two parts butter and one part sugar.
Directions for Irish Shortbread
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 ⅛ 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. You can use a food processor for this step if you wish.
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.
This biscuit bread is baked in a large circle.
Use your fingers to press the dough into a 7-inch round spring form pan or tart tin.
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. A tart tine with a removable bottom is best for making petticoat tails.
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. A skewer will work great too.
The final step before baking requires using a knife to divide the dough into eight triangles, leaving cutting guidelines on the shortbread.
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.
When baked the surface will be a light golden brown.
Sprinkle one tablespoon of sugar over the top of the warm shortbread, shaking the pan to spread it evenly. Cool completely before serving.
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 baking days.
Recipe Card and Video for Irish Shortbread
Here's a short video showing how to make these petticoat tails.
Here's the printable recipe card.
- 4 ounces butter 1 stick
- ¼ cup sugar use fine caster sugar and reserve one tablespoon to sprinkle on top of cooked shortbread.
- 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- butter for greasing the baking pan
- Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cream the butter, sugars and salt together using an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
- Sieve the corn starch and flour together. Add to the butter mixture and combine to form a soft dough.
- Press into a 7-inch round spring form pan. Remove the sides of the pan and use a rolling pin to lightly press the top surface of the dough flat. Use a fork to impress the outer edge of the dough. Prick the surface in evenly spaced circles using a tooth pick. Using a knife indent the dough in 8 equal triangular sections.
- Replace the sides of the spring form pan. Bake in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 275 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Tranfser to a wire tray to finish cooling before cutting into triangles to serve.
Nutrition Information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients used.
You can store shortbread in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic wrap for about 5 days. It's best not to refrigerate it.
You can freeze these petticoat tails in a freezer safe container or zip lock bag. They'll keep for up to 3 months. Defrost before serving.
I hope you enjoy this lovely, buttery shortbread, from my home to yours
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade
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