Shortbread is traditionally taken to a friend’s house for ‘first footing’. First footing is a Hogmanay custom in Scotland. Shortly after ‘the bells’ – the stroke of midnight – neighbours would visit one another’s houses to wish each other a good new year. First-foots brought symbolic gifts to express good wishes for the new year… a lump of coal for the fire, to ensure that the house would be warm and safe, and shortbread to symbolise that the household would never go hungry that year.
I love shortbread and my mum makes the best I’ve ever tasted. Its rich, buttery and so delicious. Perfect with a nice cup of tea. As its Hogmanay tomorrow, I made a batch of shortbread today to take round to my friend’s. This is my mum’s fool-proof recipe…
225g/8oz butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
100g/4oz golden caster sugar
225g/8oz plain flour, sifted
125g/4.5oz cornflour, sifted
pinch of salt
caster sugar to dust
Preheat the oven to 150C (130C fan)/300F/gas mark 2 and grease a Swiss roll tin 9” x 13”/23 x 33cm with butter.
Place the butter and caster sugar in a food processor or into a mixing bowl if you are using a hand mixer.
Mix until pale and fluffy. You will be tempted to stop when it looks like this…
Don’t. Keep mixing until it is really smooth and silky, like this…
Mix together the flour and cornflour and add to the bowl of butter and sugar. Add a pinch of salt and mix quickly and thoroughly to bring all the ingredients together but do not over mix.
Tip the mixture onto the greased tin.
Dust your hands with flour and press the dough into the tin and your fingers and the heel of your hand to level the surface.
Prick all over with a fork and then bake in the oven for approximately 50 minutes.
Keep an eye on it, you want it to go a nice even, pale golden brown. Don’t let it go too golden brown!
Once the shortbread is out of the oven, sprinkle liberally with caster sugar. You can then cut it into any shape you want. You can cut it into squares, or into fingers, or you can use cookie cutters. I find it easiest to cut it when it is still warm.
Carefully place the shortbread on a wire cooling rack.
You can store this in an airtight container for a week.
Shortbread makes a lovely gift. I often buy nice biscuit tins and give them to my friends, packed full of shortbread. If you wanted to, you could dip the shortbread in chocolate but I personally prefer it plain.