People love a short ingredient list. There are whole cooking shows and blogs dedicated to recipes with less than 5 ingredients. The thing is, less is not always ( or even often ) more when it comes to cooking. New cooks in particular are enamored with a short ingredient list because they think the recipe is somehow easier because you are throwing less things in the bowl or pan. Often the opposite is true: the shorter the list, the more the execution of a recipe must be absolutely spot on. It’s like the old kitchen saying that the mark of an amazing cook is the ability to cook a fried egg perfectly. One ingredient. One! But to make the perfect fried egg, all aspects of the process must be mastered or you end up with a dry, rubbery mess.
For this reason, I avoided shortbread for a very long time. Three ingredients. Just three. Surely I would mess it up. Surely there was some trick that wasn’t in the directions of the recipes I found. Surely it wasn’t as easy as it looked.
I turned to the comments of roughly 20 recipes on the Internet for shortbread to help. They were filled with horror stories! Accusations of tastelessness, bland hockey pucks, sandy cookie bars, and worse were all over the internet, so I closed my laptop, went to the kitchen, and decided to wing it using the basic formula for shortbread and the standard mixing practice for cookies:
4 : 2 : 1
Flour : Butter : Sugar
Cream butter and sugar, add dry ingredients and bake.
I figured, worst case scenario, I’d have something workable as a topping for a berry crumble or coffee cake if it all went horribly wrong. At best, I’d have a great starting point for tweaking the recipe.
As it turns out, there’s not really anything to it other than that. I don’t know what the Internet horror stories were all about, because this shortbread recipe really is as easy as the short ingredient list makes it seem.
- 2 cups sifted flour
- 1 cup room temperature salted butter
- ½ cup white sugar
- Preheat over to 325 degrees.
- In a large bowl, beat butter until it begins to turn lighter yellow. Add sugar, and beat together until well combined.
- Half a cup at a time, add the sifted flour to the creamed butter and sugar.
- After all of the flour is mixed in, the mixture will look like a coarse grain, crumbly sand or breadcrumbs. Do not expect this to form a classic "dough". Put the mixture in an ungreased 8 by 8 pan. ( I used my trusty old square Pyrex dish. )
- Press the mixture down into the pan. I used a large metal spatula place over sections of the pan, and pressed on top of that to make sure I got a more even bar.
- Using a skewer, lightly score (1/8th of an inch deep or so ) the top of the pressed dough to make 16 servings, then poke one row of holes down each scored bar. Make sure you poke straight through the dough and hit the bottom of the pan for each hole.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes. The bars will most likely be done around the 30 minute mark, but I saw that mine weren't browning yet by then, so I gave them 5 minutes extra. All of the butter makes these a fairly forgiving cookie, so unlinke most cookies, don't be scared that 1 minute or 2 difference will ruin them.
- After baking time is up, remove pan from the oven and let cool for 1 hour.
- Cut each bar from the score marks and serve, wrap, or eat!