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Traditional Scottish Cookery

Traditional Scottish Cookery

Christmas Shortbread

(A Festive Cake at Hogmanay)

The triumph of Scottish baking on the old national lines.

Flour, rice flour, butter, castor sugar

Only the best materials should be used. The flour should
be dried and sieved. The butter, which is the only moistening and shortening agent, should be squeezed free of all water. The sugar should be fine castor. Two other things are essential for success, the careful blending of the ingredients and careful firing.

The butter and sugar must first be blended. Put eight
ounces of butter and four ounces of castor sugar on to a
board, and work with the hand until thoroughly incor-
porated. Mix fourteen ounces of flour with two ounces of
rice flour and work gradually into the butter and sugar, until the dough is of the consistency of short crust. Be careful that it does not become oily (a danger in hot weather) or toughened with over-mixing. The less kneading, the more short and crisp the shortbread. Do not roll it out, as rolling, too, has a tendency to toughen it, but press with the hand into two round cakes either in wooden shortbread moulds, oiled and floured, which are then reversed on to a sheet of baking-paper, or direct on the paper, or in ungreased sandwich tins of the same size as the cakes.

The most satisfactory thickness is three-quarters of an
inch for a cake eight inches in diameter, or in such proportion. If you make a large thick cake, it is advisable to protect the edges with a paper band or hoop, and to have several layers of paper underneath and possibly one on the top. Pinch the edges neatly all round with the finger and thumb, and prick all over with a fork. For a festive occasion, decorate with white sweetie
almonds (almond comfits) or, in the case of small cakes,
with sweetie carvies (caraway comfits), and strips of candied orange or citron peel. Bake in a moderate oven (325°F.) for forty-five to sixty minutes, until it is browned to taste. The shortbread will still be soft when removed from the oven, but should be left to cool a little and then turned out very carefully on to a sieve or wire tray. When quite cold and crisp, it should be wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in an airtight tin. If left for any length of time, it is the better of being crisped again in the oven, like biscuits.

Only good farm butter gives the true flavour. Many do-
mestic bakers aver that shortbread baked in the old coal-
heated oven tastes better than when baked in a gas or electric oven. The proportion of rice to ordinary flour may be doubled, or it may be omitted altogether; but a small proportion is recommended.

Although it is eaten all the year round, shortbread is associated particularly with the Yule season, which embraces Christmas and Hlogmanay (New Year’s Eve), and is invariably provided for the ‘first-footers’ — those who go visiting from house to house in the wee small hours of New Year morning, The large, round cake of rich, crisp shortbread is, in fact, the lineal descendant of the ancient Yule-bannock, which is notched round the edge to symbolize the sun’s ray. As white flour increased in popularity, our bakers began to experiment and
eventually evolved the shortbread we know today. At first a luxury, it gradually superceded the shortened oatcake at Yule, at weddings and on other festive occasions.

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