Shortbread has to be one of the quintessential biscuits of of the British Isles. The first modern recipe in print dates back to 1736 however shortbread has been made since as far back as the 1200s! Mind you, back then, the recipe was a bit different. There was no butter in it!
Ye olde shortbread was made using leftover bread dough which would often be sweetened and dried out in the oven to make a rusk-like biscuit. Over time, the yeast was removed and butter (and sometime sugar) added to create a special treat for the upper crust of society.
So, why is it called shortbread, I hear you all screaming at your computers, tablets, and smartphones? Well, the term ‘short’ in baking (if you didn’t already know) refers to that crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth texture we associate with shortbread and other ‘short’ recipes like shortcrust pastry. It’s all down to how the butter and flour interact and the higher the ratio of flour to butter, the shorter your bake will be! There’s a reason lard is sometimes referred to as shortening… It’s perfect for creating short textures (albeit not as tasty as butter!)
People have been adding flavourings to shortbread since they decided to add butter too. Caraway seeds (which have a distinct anise taste) were a popular addition (and a particular favourite of Mary Queen of Scots). Other additions included citrus peel and/or almonds. My shortbread, however, has chocolate chips in it!
Shortbread usually comes in one of three forms: small rounds, oblongs/fingers, or a large round with segments. I usually make fingers or a large, segmented round but you can shape however you wish. I’ll give cooking times for both below, in any event, as the large round takes much longer than fingers or small rounds.
My chocolate chip shortbread is a really simple recipe: perfect with a cup of tea, as a treat for friends and family, and an easy recipe to get children involved in. Enjoy!
Chocolate Chip Shortbread
Makes: 16 small or 8 segments | Prep time: 20 minutes | Cooking time: 15 minutes (small) or 30 minutes (large)
- 190g plain flour
- 125g salted butter, chilled
- 55g sugar
- 75g chocolate chips (I prefer dark over milk)
- 1 tsp milk
- Preheat the oven to 175°C and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
- Sift the plain flour in a mixing bowl.
- Next, break the butter into small chunks and add them to the sifted flour.
- Rub the butter into the flour, using your fingertips and thumbs only, until you have a fine breadcrumb texture with no large chunks of butter left in the bowl.
- Next add the sugar and chocolate chips, and mix everything together.
- Press the mix together in the bowl. If it sticks together but is still crumbly and easy to break, you’re ready to shape. If you basically still have breadcrumbs, add the milk. The additional moisture should be enough to bring the dough together if you knead it 2-3 times. Don’t over-knead or make the mix too wet though or the shortbread will be hard and chewy.
Time to shape
Small rounds: Split the dough into balls that are slightly smaller than a ping-pong ball then press each ball flat into discs on your lined baking sheet and smooth the edges to make them truly round.
Fingers: Roll your dough into a 1cm thick sheet. Then, cut into fingers and place on a baking sheet before pricking the tops with a fork.
Large round: Place the dough onto your lined baking sheet and flatten with the palm of your hand to a 1cm thickness. Smooth the edge, then score the top into eight sections (like a pizza), and prick all over with a fork. You can also crimp the edge (either with a fork, or by using your finger and thumb on the outside edge and a finger on the inside edge—pushing the inside finger between the finger and thumb on the outer edge.)
Bake and finish
- Bake the shaped shortbread on the middle shelf of the oven for 12-15 minutes (for small rounds and fingers) or 25-30 minutes for the large round.
- You don’t want the shortbread to burn or turn too golden so cover with another piece of baking parchment and return to the oven to finish baking if they start to brown.
- Once the shortbread are baked, dust with caster sugar and leave to fully cool.