Good morning and welcome to a day where we commemorate a highly significant and historic facet of not only American but global culture. That’s right. As I’m sure you all know, January 6th is National Shortbread Day. And that’s certainly of more value to commemorate than some “other things” (ahem) that the media will no doubt be bleating about today.
Some of us no doubt simply take shortbread for granted, particularly when it’s time for the Girl Scouts (at least what’s left of them) to come around selling cookies. But the history of shortbread dates back much further than that. The Scottish are credited with creating the first modern version of shortbread, with Mary, Queen of Scotland, being cited as the first to add sugar to an older recipe. (If we’re being honest, a peasant probably invented it, but the British royalty always took credit for everything.)
For those who might be wondering about the history of shortbread itself, now is the time to learn a bit about it. As it turns out, shortbread has medieval origins and supposedly Mary, Queen of Scotland, invented modern shortbread in the 16th century by adding sugar to an existing recipe. Rumor has it that these were originally flavored with caraway seeds, but Queen Mary decided to sweeten it up a bit.
Of course, it can’t be verified whether or not that story is true, but it’s a fun idea to go along with. Honestly, that story sounds a bit like one of those popular myths such as George Washington’s cherry tree but, for all anyone knows, it could actually be based in fact.
If you’d like to get into the spirit of the day and whip up some shortbread cookies of your own, the recipe is among the most simple in the history of baking. That makes sense because people in the 16th century didn’t always have a huge variety of ingredients laying about. You probably already have everything you need right in your kitchen unless you’re a single, young male in an apartment full of empty pizza boxes. Give this a try if you’re so inclined. Here is all you’re going to need:
- 2 1/4 cups (12oz) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (4oz) sugar
- 1 cup (8oz) butter
Preheat your oven to 375°F/190°C. Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl until they form a stiff dough. If you wish, you can now add some fancy additional ingredients such as chocolate chips or other spices, but traditionalists can stop right there. You can either mix the dough by hand or use a mixer.
Roll out the dough and form round cookies, unless you prefer a more fancy shape. (Perhaps you could find a cookie mold in the shape of a historic building like… one in Washington, perhaps.) Prick each piece with a fork to avoid air bubbles. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes. Then sprinkle it with sugar immediately upon removing it from the oven. That’s all there is to it. It’s really just that simple.
Some of you may have some Girl Scout shortbread cookies laying around and those will work just as well if you’re short on time. Speaking of Girl Scout cookies, was I the only one who didn’t realize how far they have expanded their list of offerings? I traditionally think of just shortbread and thin mints when the Girl Scouts come around to our house. But they’ve gotten seriously fancy over the years. There are now “Adventurefuls” (brownies with caramel), caramel chocolate chip, s’mores, and even peanut butter patties. But you can still order the traditional shortbread cookies, though they sometimes call them “trefoils.”
You should be all set now. And baking will probably keep you away from the television, where talking heads will be blathering on all day about something stupid. Enjoy!