Well, easy to remember the recipe anyway, as you’ll see below. But, making these isn’t that much harder, either. In fact, making the dough is super-simple; the only troublesome part is if you want your shortbread to turn out looking as if it could fit right in at the case at a Bouchon Bakery. I.e., the rolling, shaping, and cutting of the dough. But, even that’s not too difficult; it just requires a little bit of patience and careful work. Nothing that’s beyond us scratchers, right?
We got this recipe from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel. So far, we’ve been really impressed with Chef Keller’s books. He provides recipes for dishes that we couldn’t afford at his restaurants, (we’re not sure we could even afford to go in), and he provides a huge amount of detail to help you make them in your own home. Often, some seem beyond our capabilities, but, then, there are ones such as the Pâte Brisée, or this one for shortbread, both of which are well within our grasp. Yours, too.
Now, Chef Keller might be saying that we ruined his recipe, but we did change it ever so slightly; we used vanilla extract instead of vanilla paste, and we made our shortbreads smaller. We’re even toying with the idea of making them even just a bit smaller next time. They are rich.
Makes 36 shortbreads.
You’ll note that we listed the weight of each ingredient first; that’s because we wanted to make it obvious how simple this recipe is: 90 grams sugar, 180 grams (or 2 x 90) butter, and 270 grams (or 3 x 90) flour, plus a bit of flavoring and salt. The sugar, butter, and flour follow a pattern: 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, and 3 parts flour. That’s why we said it’s easy as 1-2-3. With that in mind, we can make this pretty much anywhere we have a scale, and in any amount we want. Cool, huh? Now, what do we mean by a scant cup of sugar? Measure out 1/2 cup of sugar and remove 1 tablespoon of the sugar. That’s a scant 1/2 cup. The scant 2 cups of flour? Measure 2 cups of flour and remove 1 tablespoon. There’s your scant 2 cups.
Okay, back to the ingredients, three things: butter, you must use unsalted. When done, these shortbread have just the tiniest taste of saltiness. Almost unnoticeable, but it’s there and it provides a foil to the sugar. If you use salted butter, they will be noticeably salty. Also, the butter must be at room temperature. We took ours out of the fridge about 2 hours before using. If it’s cold, it will not fluff with the sugar, and you’ll have heavy shortbread. Second, salt: it’s only a bit, and you do want kosher salt. Kosher salt is less dense than table salt, so 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt is less salty that 1/2 teaspoon of table salt. Third, you want the vanilla flavor to shine through on these cookies, so don’t use imitation vanilla.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en place. We planned to bake these like we meant it (thanks to inspiration from the book, Bake It Like You Mean It, by Gesine Bullock-Prado), so we did go to the trouble of measuring everything out in advance (all right, all right, you caught us, we didn’t measure the vanilla in advance). With so few ingredients, it’s not hard, and it does make it a bit easier when you’re putting the dough together.
Cream butter. Using a stand mixer on medium-low with the paddle attachment, mix the butter until it’s smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. If it doesn’t look smooth and creamy, your butter might not be warm enough. Wait awhile for the butter to warm, and try again.
Add sugar and salt. Add that scant half-cup of sugar. and cream it into the butter with the mixer on medium low. Notice that the butter starts to fluff up. That’s good. If yours isn’t fluffing, the butter’s still too cold. Oops. Remember that for next time (once you taste these, there will be a next time). Mix until the butter/ sugar combination is nice and fluffy and pale; about 2 minutes on medium low should do it.
Add vanilla. Now add the vanilla, and mix on low until it’s incorporated, about 30 seconds.
Add flour. Do this in two separate additions. Add about 1/2 the flour, mix for 15 to 30 seconds until the flour is just incorporated. Then add the remaining flour and mix that in the same way. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and the bottom and make sure all the flour is mixed in.
Shape and refrigerate. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, and, using a pastry/dough scraper and your hands, press and shape the dough into a 5-inch square. Now wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Adjust the racks of your oven so that one is in the top third and one is in the bottom third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Adjusting the racks will help the shortbread bake uniformly so they’ll look as if they came from the fanciest bakery in town.
Roll out dough. Place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, and work on rolling out the dough into a 9-inch square. Use the pastry scraper to make the edges nice and square. This is the step where you have to put in the extra effort if you’re going to “Bake it Like You Mean It.” So, we did spend the extra time. Once you have a 9-inch square, the dough is probably soft, so refrigerate it for 15 minutes to firm it up.
Cut shortbread. Use a measuring tape and a chef’s knife, and mark off lines 1 1/2 inches apart, both horizontally and vertically. We even marked the edges where we were going to trip off just a bit of dough to square up the sides. Yes, it’s more effort, and we know the shortbread won’t taste different, but it will look nicer, professional, even. Once you have the 36 squares marked off, cut through the dough.
Sprinkle sugar. Take those remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and sprinkle over the surface. Sprinkling the sugar from a height will help in making a uniform coating. Of course, it will also help get sugar on the floor. That’s one of the trade-offs you have to make. We suggest going with the uniform coating and sweeping up the floor later.
Transfer to sheets. Use the chef’s knife to lift each shortbread over to the lined baking sheets (careful!), leaving about 3/4 of an inch between each one.
Bake. Slide the sheets into the oven and bake for 17 to 19 minutes. Halfway through, rotate the sheets from top to bottom and from front to back. This will reduce the effects of hot spots in the oven and make your shortbread come out uniformly brown. When done, the shortbread will be a light golden brown.
Cool. Leave the shortbread on the sheets for about 10 minutes to cool, then transfer to a rack to cool the rest of the way. This is the hardest part. Perhaps even harder than rolling out the dough.
Serve and enjoy. This is what you’ve been waiting for.
No two ways about it. These are some of the best shortbread ever, and we really, really, encourage you to try making them. We think that once you taste them, they’ll soon be a standard that you’ll fall back on again and again. The shortbread is light and tender, not too sweet, and has just a hint of saltiness to bring out that vanilla flavor. On our first bite, we both knew that these are well worth the effort (even the detailed rolling and slicing) and deserve a full five stars without any reservations.