Scottish shortbread. Photo: Graham Tidy
Scottish shortbread, or petticoat tails as it is known, is a buttery treat that is very easy to make, especially if you have a food processor. It would make a lovely gift for a friend, or to offer visitors during the festive season. For gift giving, wrap the shortbread in cellophane and tie with a tartan ribbon.
This traditional Scottish shortbread recipe is the one I have made every Christmas for a very long time. It is from the treasured Forget-me-not Biscuit Cook Book, published by the New South Wales Society for Crippled Children. Although this delightful little book doesn't have a date inside, I think it was first published in the late 1950s. From memory, we got our copy in the early '60s, and even though it has yellowed pages and is falling to bits, I still use it today.
The recipe is easy to remember and change, with a ratio of ingredients of three, two, one - that is, three parts flour, two parts butter and one part sugar. For the flour, you can use one third of rice flour or fine semolina and two thirds of plain flour. The rice flour gives the shortbread a grainy texture and the semolina makes it crunchy.
You can cut a little circle in the middle of the shortbread before baking, so there are no points that may be damaged later when it is cut. Serve also as a dessert biscuit with fruit.
Makes 24 petticoat tails
375g plain flour, or 250g plain flour and 125g rice flour or fine semolina
250g good-quality butter at room temperature, cubed
125g caster sugar or golden caster sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp extra caster sugar to sprinkle
Place the flour in the food processor and give it a quick whizz. This is instead of sifting. Add the sugar (125 grams), butter and salt and process again until well combined. Alternatively, work the soft butter into the flour and sugar with a wooden spoon. It should not be worked too much as this may make it tough. Turn the dough out on to the kitchen bench and bring together into a ball.
Divide the dough into two pieces, and place one in each tin. Gently pat and press the dough out with your fingers to fit the tin. It should be about one centimetre thick. Use a small glass jar to roll over and around the surface to make it even. Alternatively, pat or roll the balls of dough out on baking paper into 20-centimetre circles. Slide on to a tray.
Prick the shortbread rounds on the top with a fork to stop it rising. If your tin isn't fluted, press around the edge with the tines of a fork. Score the surface with a knife into 12 wedges. Sprinkle the top with caster sugar. Decorate with the almonds or candied peel. Chill for 15 to 20 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 150C regular. Bake the rounds for 60 minutes until biscuit coloured. Cool on a rack before removing from the tin. Cut into wedges and store in an airtight tin. It keeps well for about a week.