Mon 20 Dec 2010
I am not a baker. To me, baking is among the black arts, calling for a precision, dedication to form and an intuitive understanding of such terms as “fluffy” and “soft peaks” that I do not possess.
But it is Christmas, so I try to make an effort. Last year, I saw a recipe called “The Best Shortbread” in the November 2009 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It didn’t look too difficult, so I decided to give it a try. I prepared the ingredients carefully, including the butter. Because we use butter without preservatives, and because we use so little of it, I keep it in the freezer. And frozen butter is the same as cold butter, right?
The dough would not form and I ended up throwing the entire mess into the garbage. Then I made it again, with cold butter, and it was very, very good. I made it again this week, and it turned out beautifully, so I’m sure that it will work for you.
This recipe uses oat flour, which you make by whirling rolled oats in the food processor until they are very fine.
It also uses a springform pan to shape the dough. I couldn’t find a 2-inch cookie cutter, so I used a glass to cut out the centre and a ball of aluminum foil to fill the space.
This shortbread has a lovely texture and it’s not too sweet. I hope you enjoy it. To avoid additives and preservatives, be sure to use a butter that does not contain colour.
Use the collar of a springform pan to form the shortbread into an even round. Mold the shortbread with the collar in the closed position, then open the collar, but leave it in place. This allows the shortbread to expand slightly but keeps it from spreading too far. Wrapped well and stored at room temperature, shortbread will keep for up to 7 days.
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 ½ cups (7.5 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar (also known as icing sugar)
½ tsp table salt
14 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/8-inch slices
Springform pan (9 or 9.5 inch)
2-inch oven-proof cookie or biscuit cutter
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Pulse oats in spice grinder or blender until reduced to fine powder, about ten 5-second pulses (you should have ¼ to 1/3 cup oat flour). In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix oat flour, all-purpose flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. Add butter to dry ingredients and continue to mix on low speed until dough just forms and pulls away from sides of bowl, 5 to 10 minutes.
Place upside-down (grooved edge should be at top) collar of 9- or 9 1/2-inch springform pan on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (do not use springform pan bottom). Press dough into collar in even 1/2-inch-thick layer, smoothing top of dough with back of spoon. Place 2-inch biscuit cutter in center of dough and cut out center. Place extracted round alongside springform collar on baking sheet and replace cutter in center of dough. Open springform collar, but leave it in place.
Bake shortbread 5 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees. Continue to bake until edges turn pale golden, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Remove baking sheet from oven; turn off oven. Remove springform pan collar; use chef’s knife to score surface of shortbread into 16 even wedges, cutting halfway through shortbread. Using wooden skewer, poke 8 to 10 holes in each wedge. Return shortbread to oven and prop door open with handle of wooden spoon, leaving 1-inch gap at top. Allow shortbread to dry in turned-off oven until pale golden in center (shortbread should be firm but giving to touch), about 1 hour.
Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool shortbread to room temperature, at least 2 hours. Cut shortbread at scored marks to separate and serve.
From the November 2009 issue of Cook’s Illustrated