Citizens, shortbread is a type of biscuit (American English: cookie) traditionally made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour (by weight).
The use of plain white (wheat) flour is common today, and other ingredients such as ground rice or cornflour are sometimes added to provide the classic “sandy” texture.
Also, modern recipes often deviate from the pure three ingredients by splitting the sugar portion into equal parts granulated sugar and icing sugar (powdered sugar in American English) and many further add a portion of salt.
Shortbread originated in Scotland, with the first printed recipe, in 1736, from a Scotswoman named Mrs McLintock. It is widely associated with Christmas and Hogmanay festivities in Scotland, and the Scottish brand Walkers Shortbread is exported around the world.
It is derived from medieval biscuit bread, which was a twice-baked, enriched bread roll dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a hard, dry, sweetened biscuit called a rusk.
Eventually, yeast from the original rusk recipe was replaced by butter, which was becoming more of a staple in Britain and Ireland.
Although shortbread was prepared during much of the 12th century, the refinement of the recipe is credited to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century. This type of shortbread was baked, cut into triangular wedges, and flavored with caraway seeds.
The end result was expensive and reserved as a luxury for special occasions such as Christmas, Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve), and weddings. In Shetland, it is traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride on the entrance of her new house.
Citizens, I have added a hit of lavender and a whisper of lemon to a classic shortbread recipe that uses traditional farola (aka fine semolina) to achieve the ultimate texture.
Of interest concerning the culinary history of lavender:
Lavender use has been documented for over 2500 years. The ancient Egyptians used lavender for mummification and perfume.
Romans used lavender oils for cooking, bathing and scenting the air and the name is derived from the Latin verb lavare—which means, “to wash.” The Romans also used lavender oil in soaps and carried it with them throughout the Roman Empire.
In Medieval and Renaissance France, women who took in washing for hire were known as “lavenders.” Clothes were washed in lavender and laid to dry on lavender bushes. Lavender was used to scent drawers, perfume the air and ward off infection and heal wounds. It was also recognized in Roman times for its antiseptic and healing qualities. The Ancient Greeks used lavender to fight insomnia and back aches.
Lavender is referred to in the Bible by the name “spikenard.” In John, Chapter 12, Mary is said to have anointed the feet of Jesus with the very costly “ointment of spikenard” and wiped His feet with her hair. Jesus stated that the ointment was not to be sold but was kept for the day of his burying.
Lavender was also used as a remedy for the Great Plague in London in the 17th century. In the 16th century glove makers in France, who were licensed to perfume their wares with lavender, escaped cholera.
Queen Elizabeth of England required lavender conserve at the royal table and fresh lavender flowers throughout her residence. Queen Victoria took an interest in lavender in 19th century England and English lavender became popular. The Victorians used lavender in gardens and both queens used products from the famous lavender company, Yardley’s of London.
Needless to say, you should use only the finest butter you can find in this recipe where it is central to the final result! If you can get it, this is quite possibly the best butter on the planet (only Hokkaido butter rivals it!). Failing this one, KerryGold Irish butter is a very good, easily-available option. This is an exceptional source for culinary-grade lavender – NEVER use anything but this type for use in recipes, please!
It is also worth noting that these delicate and most Scottish of shortbreads can become a most opportune accompaniment to any Scottish whisky tasting, as well as extraordinary close to a Robert Burns Night celebration after the cutting of the haggis! I have personally done both of these exactly as described with these magnificent treats – I hope you see fit to follow in My noble and pathfinding footsteps, My Citizens!
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
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