Museum at Home: Let’s Make Shortbread!

A couple of weeks ago, Museum at Home had you making butter.  What a better way to use that homemade butter than to make cookies!!

One of the most popular and well-known cookies uses butter as one of its three main ingredients:  shortbread!  A no self-respecting tea party host would hold their tea party without the addition of shortbread to the tea table!

So today, we are going to make shortbread cookies and then settle in for a lovely tea party, inspired by this photo from our collection.

In the search for a shortbread recipe for this activity, we delved into our historic recipes to see if we could find the best recipe for us to try!

Just a few recipe books found on our Curator’s shelves

Shortbread originally comes from a type of bread called biscuit bread.  It was essentially made from the left-over bread dough which was dried in an oven and formed a hard biscuit called a rusk.  Eventually through time, as the recipe changed, the yeast in the dough was replaced by butter and these biscuits became closer to the cookie we know and love today! 

Because of the amount of sugar and butter in the recipe, shortbread was a luxury that only those with some wealth could afford.  As a result of this, many times shortbread was only eaten on special occasions such as Christmas, New Year and weddings.

Shortbread is usually made with one part white sugar, two parts butter and three parts plain wheat flour.  Many recipes have evolved to alter the proportions of these ingredients and to replace some of the sugar with powdered sugar – all with the hope of making a melt-in-your-mouth treat!

My favourite recipe book:  Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management replaces some of the flour in her shortbread recipe with cornflower or ground rice and also adds almonds to the recipe.

The Cook Not Mad or Rational Cookery, published in 1831 in Kingston, Upper Canada – the first Canadian cookbook – uses 9 cups of flour, three and a half cups of butter, five cups of sugar, a large coffee cup of water, with a heaping teaspoon of pearlash dissolved in it; and finishes the recipe off with caraway seeds. This would make a sizable recipe!

For our attempt at shortbread, we used the tried and true shortbread formula:

1 cup of butter

½ cup white sugar

2 cups of all purpose flour

We also jazzed it up a bit with some lemon zest to add some flavour.

Add the butter and sugar to a bowl and cream well with a mixer
Add flour and lemon zest and mix well.
Pat the mixture into a pan lined with parchment – prick with a fork. Cook in a slow oven (325 degrees) for 25 -35 minutes.
Cut cookies into square while still warm. Arrange them on a fancy plate and enjoy with your favourite tea party friend!

We think these turned out great and we hope you enjoy making your own shortbread at home!

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