Perfect Shortbread: the Art and Science of Baking

Shortbread Cookies

I did not increase up in a Scottish family with an old family recipe for shortbread. At first, shortbread appeared easy to me. How hard could it be to toss together butter, sugar, and flour to generate a delicious cookie?

It isn’t really complicated. But, there is some science involved and I’m in this article to tell you about the science and heritage of shortbread. Picture that, a literature and innovative composing nerd educating science…I am spewing coffee out my nose at the silliness of it all as I produce. This posting concentrates on the science of shortbread in unscientific language. My hope is that the insights gleaned from hours of demo and mistake will be of use to all beginner bakers.

To begin with I was drawn to baking since it really is an specific science. You comply with the recipe to the T and you get a great baked fantastic, right? In the starting, I could bake a fantastic baguette if I adopted the directions, but heaven assist me if I experienced to be inventive with spices and seasonings for a food. When I very first began cooking, I by no means recognized how persons tasted their get the job done and just intuitively knew what it wanted. Thus, I was drawn to baking. For this cooking novice, it felt far more precise and scientific than the resourceful art of throwing jointly a food from my creativity.

Baking Shortbread Cookies

At first Vermont Shortbread Organization began out as a seasonal small business out of my own kitchen. Back in the mid-90s, I failed to even own a Kitchen-Aid mixer. I blended the dough by hand. And any individual who is familiar with shortbread, can attest to the fact that the dough is pretty heavy with no liquid substances. Again in all those days I had forearms the sizing of tree trunks from all that hand mixing. The excellent detail was I discovered precisely what consistency the dough experienced to be to make the most effective shortbread. I acquired accurately how a lot handling the dough could just take just before it turned overworked and manufactured a difficult shortbread spherical. I acquired not only by hunting, but by sensation and of training course, tasting.

As the enterprise grew and men and women recognized that shortbread was a excellent 12 months round gift for any celebration the get in touch with to bake during the warmer months became obvious. Even so, summer season shortbread did not usually seem as wonderful as winter shortbread. Most persons failed to observe, but having baked 1000’s of rounds by hand, I was not happy with my summer season shortbread. It took me a couple many years to realize there ended up 4 aspects at function here contributing to the texture, shade, and flavor of the final shortbread products: humidity, oven incredibly hot places, butter temperature, and mixing time.


I don’t know the chemistry behind this, but I can convey to you that it really is substantially tougher to generate a ideal shortbread spherical when the weather conditions is humid. Perhaps the dampness tends to make the flour less fluffy…I don’t know. I can only explain to you that humid-weather conditions shortbread is not as quite, golden, and delicious as chilly weather shortbread. For this purpose, when I crafted my industrial bakery, I set up dehumidifiers in the bakery. So now, no subject what the period, we generate a best shortbread every time.

Shortbread Cookies

Oven Temperature

When I began baking shortbread out of my dwelling kitchen area in the 90s, I experienced only a little house Whirlpool electric oven. I could only bake three 8″ rounds at a time and the production was slooooooow. I detest cooking with electric powered and feel that the greatest cooks use fuel, on the other hand, I have to hand it to that minimal oven that served me nicely for practically a 10 years. All ovens have spots that are hotter than some others. I intimately uncovered wherever all my oven’s hot spots were and with every single batch of shortbread shifted the situation of every pan midway by means of the baking time to guarantee even browning of my solution each time. The Whirlpool electrical product was retired to equipment heaven in 2005. Now with my business oven (a major Imperial fuel product), I can bake up to forty 8″ rounds at a time in an setting with far better convection (air movement close to the products). Nonetheless, I change the pans all around in the center of the baking period as I find out exactly where this new oven’s warm spots are.

Butter Temperature

When I started baking shortbread, I liked to remove the butter from the fridge a couple hrs in advance of I prepared to use it so that it would be tender. Remember, I was mixing by hand and required to make it as straightforward as doable. When I started baking summer shortbread, even so, the butter grew to become runny and commenced separating. This did not make for a great texture in the final product. I will not know how to clarify this scientifically I can only inform you how it felt to me. The ultimate products was dense and too doughy. What I genuinely needed was a crisp golden flakiness on the outdoors with a tiny little bit of chewiness on the inside of. I uncovered that if I was likely to bake in the summer months I experienced to use butter virtually immediately from the fridge. If the butter bought way too gentle, I had to toss it in the garbage and get started more than. That’s when I purchased my first mixer with a dough hook to make the occupation of mixing challenging butter simpler. Butter instantly from the fridge, not much too challenging, not also smooth is the only way to make best shortbread. All over again, I just experienced to master by sensation my way how prolonged to permit the butter sit on the counter right before it was excellent. More time in the wintertime, shorter in the summer months.

Proper Mixing Time

Any dough mixed much too extended or not adequate affects the remaining item. With shortbread, you very first product the sugar and butter alongside one another. That is the simple portion. The challenging part is realizing how to integrate the flour. I like to do it a pound at a time (bear in mind I am now baking in pounds of flour, sugar, and butter alternatively than cups). As soon as the dough is completely included and varieties a ball with no bits of flour on the aspect of the mixing bowl, I know it truly is all set for baking. Now, when I got Trixie (my commercial mixer), I experienced to relearn the timing all around. Trixie can mix bricks. My palms and my previous Kitchen area-Assist could not. Therefore mixing time is a great deal shorter now. Shortbread dough (as with any dough) becomes tough the extra you blend it. The trick, which I discovered by demo and mistake, is to locate the correct timing for your dough. I am not an qualified on all dough, but I have perfected shortbread dough.

You know, the funny detail about all of this studying how to make the perfect shortbread is that I hardly ever experienced any authentic instruction. Now that I have employed a specialist baker, she’s taught me a couple of points about earning the course of action more productive and producing the final merchandise far more tasty and gorgeous. When I believe about it, that is really a great deal how I master: just accomplishing it about and about.

When science and our imaginations work jointly, we build meals artwork. With the holiday seasons immediately approaching, this scientist and dreamer will have to retreat to the bakery to develop new masterpieces. I hope that this essay presents you with innovative insights for your possess dough (shortbread or normally) and a minor peek within the artwork and science of perfect dough from a minimal Vermont corporation that handcrafts every single merchandise with love, imagination, and tender treatment (with a minor science thrown in).