Each December I buy an M&S tin of shortbread, and I feel that Christmas has started. The tins are enchanting and the all-butter shortbread is luxurious, rich and crumbly – leaving a shower of sugar and golden crumbs behind, no matter how tidy an eater you are. My annual tin of shortbread is the only time in the year I ever buy biscuits from a shop. The children appreciate the rarity of this transaction and treat M&S shortbread with the sort of reverence that in years gone by used to come with an exotic fruit from the other side of the world.
“You bought it in a shop!” one murmurs.
“From M&S!” the other one adds, with shining eyes.
“Look at the beautiful tin!” I say.
And once Christmas is over, the shortbread has been eaten and the tin is in my collection under the worktop, I forget about shortbread until next December.
But this year, the memory of shortbread has lingered….I don’t know why, but it is now March and I rather fancied a piece of shortbread with my morning coffee. I already know that M&S only sells beautiful tins of shortbread at Christmas, because one year I thought it would be a lovely idea to give everybody in my family tins of shortbread for their birthday; and not even my sister, who has a January birthday, got one.
So I’ve made some.
And it turns out that shortbread is possibly the easiest biscuit to make in the world.
The recipe I ended up using is an amalgam of various recipes from Nigella, Rachel Allen and the BBC Good Food magazine. I had a big tub of lavender sugar sitting on my shelf that I had been wondering how to use for a while, and something about the Scottishness of shortbread and the purple of the herb made me think that lavender flavoured shortbread would be a particularly nice idea. I think I had purple heather in mind, not lavender actually, but no matter because it turned out to be an inspired idea anyway.
The lavender adds aroma without being overpowering. This is still plain, simple, shortbread. You could try making them even plainer, with regular caster sugar in place of the lavender sugar; or Good Food magazine had a vanilla variation – use vanilla sugar in place of the lavender sugar.
The List Writer’s Lavender Shortbread
- 325g plain flour
- 200g chilled, unsalted butter – chopped into smallish chunks
- 125g lavender sugar
- 3 free range egg yolks
Put the flour and the chunks of butter into a food processor. Process until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the egg yolks and process again until the mixture comes together as a stiff ball of dough. Unusually for a food processor, this second stage takes quite a while – about 3 minutes in my Magimix machine. If your eggs are BIG, just add two yolks at first – you may not need the third.
Chill the dough in clingfilm in the fridge for about an hour.
Take the dough out and roll it to no less than 1cm thick, on a work surface well dusted with flour. Shortbread should be chunky, not crispy, and you should leave this dough much thicker than you would for normal biscuits. Stamp out shapes and put them on a baking sheet. I got 32 heart-shaped pieces of shortbread out of this much dough.
Bake the shortbread at Gas 7 for 8 to 10 minutes. You do not want to let the shortbread colour – it should be the palest gold – so check after 8 minutes. Take the biscuits out of the oven and leave to cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack. You could dust with extra sugar at this point if you like your biscuits a bit sweeter.
Store in a pretty tin, give as presents to your friends and family, and eat all year round. Yum!