My long, sunny (yes, really!) summer in Edinburgh is coming to an end and by the time you read this, I’ll be back home in Delhi, where, I hear the latest New York craze for “cronuts" is in full swing. I’m not sure this croissant-crossed-with-a-donut madness is for me though and in fact, my last recipe from Scotland is as traditional as baking gets. I decided it was time to bring you the definitive shortbread recipe; the only problem was I didn’t have the definitive shortbread recipe. For something with no more than three to four ingredients, it can be surprisingly difficult to master—often it turns out heavy and chewy instead of light and crisp.

Happily, family help was at hand in the shape of my cousin’s mother-in-law Barbara, a renowned home cook and baker and universally acknowledged (in my family at least) as making the best shortbread in Scotland. A meeting was arranged with Barbara and her shortbread duly produced for tasting and sure enough it was the most crumbly, or “short", I’ve ever tasted. It seemed to dissolve softly in the mouth.

I asked Barbara what her secret was. Some recipes include, rather like Indian nan khatai, semolina, for extra crunch although the most basic, traditional recipe was a 6-4-2 ratio of flour, butter and caster sugar. Barbara adds cornflour to her recipe and uses icing sugar instead of caster sugar which she maintains gives a crisper, smoother biscuit.

I made mine in the traditional “Petticoat Tails" shape—marking the edge of the shortbread to resemble petticoats—but you could also roll out the dough thinner, about VN of an inch thick then cut out into rounds before baking on a tray. You could also roll the dough into a log, roll the log in demerara sugar and cut into thin slices for a more modern take. I also made Lemon Posset to go with mine. A posset was traditional spiced English drink made from milk curdled with ale or wine although today it is usually a simple, mousse-like dessert made from cream, sugar and lemon juice. It turned out to be the perfect accompaniment, especially with the thin rounds.

How ever you serve this shortbread, it won’t disappoint. Thanks Barbara.

Barbara’s Shortbread

Makes 1x8 inch shortbread round

Ingredients

8oz* soft butter

4oz icing sugar, sifted

80z plain flour (maida), sifted

4oz cornflour, sifted

(*1oz=28.3g)

Method

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius.

In a large bowl beat together the butter and icing sugar until soft and creamy. I used a hand-held mixer but you could also do the whole recipe with a wooden spoon.

Gradually add the flour and cornflour and mix for a few seconds, then form the mixture into a smooth dough with your hands. Roll the dough into a smooth round and press it into an 8-inch baking tin. Mark (but don’t cut all the way through) the dough with a knife. With a fork, mark the edge of the shortbread. Alternatively, roll the dough out more thinly and cut into rounds and lay the rounds on a baking tray. Bake for about 45 minutes until pale (shortbread should never be brown!) but well-baked. If you’re making thin shortbread biscuits they won’t need so long—25 minutes should be long enough.

Lemon Posset

Makes 6 small glasses

Ingredients

400ml cream

Thinly peeled zest of 1 large lemon

125g caster sugar

Juice of 2 large lemons or 4 Indian nimbu

Method

Put the cream and lemon zest in a pan and slowly bring to the boil. Add the caster sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the lemon/nimbu juice and simmer gently for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes.

Strain the creamy lemony mixture through a fine sieve into a jug to remove the lemon zest. Divide the posset between six small glasses and leave to cool to room temperature. Cover the glasses with cling film and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight.

Serve with fresh berries and, of course, shortbread.

Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at Eatanddust.com.

Also Read | Pamela’s previous Lounge columns

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