I am a shortbread enthusiast. It has the highest deliciosity-to-effort ratio of any baked good: it's not only one of the tastiest things to eat, but also one of the easiest to make. And as if that weren't great enough, you almost always have the ingredients on hand, so it's just one step of difficulty away from conjuring up food in your replicator, Star-Trek style. Shortbread was undoubtedly a major factor in surviving my first Chicago winter. I think made it on average about once a week this winter, trying different recipes, techniques, tactics, and baking times each time, in an effort to discover the perfect shortbread.
So yesterday, as Sean and I were throwing together an impromptu picnic and I was trying to figure out a dessert I could make quickly, I decided to make some shortbread. It came out so good that I think I have finally hit upon my ideal shortbread recipe. Yesterday I used scotch instead of water, which added a subtle smoky taste and was delicious, but I think in general I prefer my shortbread unadultered.
So here's my shortbread recipe. You'll find most recipes are pretty similar ingredients-wise, but small alterations in technique and quantities make a big difference when you're making something this nakedly simple.
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 superfine sugar (or half powdered, half granulated)
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup salted butter
2–3 tbsp ice water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put dry ingredients in food processor, and pulse a couple times to combine. (If you'd like to make superfine sugar from granulated sugar, put your sugar in the food processor first, and process for 30 seconds to a minute before adding the flour and salt.) Cut butter into small chunks and add to food processor. (It is essential that the butter be as cold as possible: do not remove from fridge until you're ready to add it.) Pulse until you have the butter integrated: this should look like coarse crumbs. Turn on the processor and add ice water slowly, without dumping in the ice, til the dough begins sticking together. (It will still be pretty crumbly.)
Turn out the dough into an 8-inch baking pan and press it into the pan. (You may want to line the pan with parchment for easier removal.) Score into 18 pieces (6 by 3) with a knife. When oven reaches 400 degrees, reduce temperature to 325 and bake shortbread for 15 minutes.
Remove shortbread and cut into the pre-scored rectangles, and place the pieces about an inch apart on a baking sheet. return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly golden-brown on the edges. Let rest on the pan for one minute, then remove to a cooling rack.