A simple mixture, buttery flavour and crumbly texture – it’s a treat we can all agree on.
The trick to light, melt-in your mouth shortbread is substituting a portion of the all-purpose flour with cornstarch.
1⅓ cups (320 ml) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (45 ml) cornstarch
¾ cup (175 ml) butter, softened
¾ cup (175 ml) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 190˚C (375˚F). Line baking sheets with parchment.
Whisk flour and cornstarch in a bowl.
Beat the butter and the sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.
Stir in the flour until evenly blended to a smooth paste. Turn on to a work surface and gently roll out to desired thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Bake until lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool on a wire rack.
Take shortbread to the next level with this layered slice. An even thickness of shortbread and caramel with a smaller layer of dark chocolate, sprinkled with fleur de sel, makes this a standout for parties, lunchboxes or snacks.
To balance all the flavours and textures, roll the shortbread thicker than normal (½ inch, 1.25 cm). Bake shortbread in a deep sheet pan. Let the shortbread cool in the pan. Although classic shortbread is traditional for this layer, you can add herbs and spices (½ a teaspoon, 2.5 ml will do) to the dough. Just make sure to choose flavours that boost caramel and chocolate like thyme, Mexican chili powder or cardamom.
Once the shortbread has cooled, pour a ½ inch (1.25 cm) layer of caramel over top. If you don’t want to keep a watchful eye on your sugar, opt for dulce de leche instead. Fit a heat-proof saucer or a round metal baking dish in a large pot. Place a can of condensed milk on saucer or dish. Fill with water, making sure that the water is at least 3 inches (7.5 cm) above the top of the can. Set over medium heat. Gently simmer for 2-3 hours. Using tongs or oven gloves, remove can from heat and allow to come to room temperature. Never open the can immediately from the heat as it can explode. Once cool, open and spread over shortbread.
After the caramel layer has set, melt chocolate over a double boiler. Pour over caramel. Let the chocolate set, about 10 minutes. Cut into equal squares.
Classic shortbread usually comes in one of two shapes – round or fingers (rectangles). The pre-baked dough is pricked with the tines of a fork to make a perforated pattern, and occasionally the edges are crimped.
Dress it Up
Our take dresses up the classic slightly with meringue, fruit, edible flowers and piped cream. Cutting the middle from the shortbread to make two stackable rings allows you to see the Chantilly cream inside. While some elements can be made ahead of time, this dessert tastes best just after serving.
Small, coloured, piped meringues are a great way to add crunch. All meringue begins with two ingredients – egg whites and sugar. Only the method differs for each of the 3 types. French meringue, where egg whites are beaten to soft peaks and sugar is gradually added until stiff peaks form, is the least stable. Italian meringue, where egg whites are beaten to soft peaks and heated simple syrup (at soft-ball stage) is then slowly added, results in the most stable, glossy and smooth meringue. Swiss meringue, where egg whites and sugar are mixed together over a double boiler until warm before whipping, is dense and crisp. To achieve a crunchy, airy meringues bake at low heat (200°F or 95°C) for 2 hours. To further dry them out, turn the oven off and leave the meringue in the oven another 15-30 minutes.
This original recipe article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.