I know you can buy shortbreads everywhere these days, but great as some of those biscuits can be, nothing comes close to a batch cooked that day, or even that week. It’s having the real version of something, rather than the ‘buy one get one free’ version, that makes us appreciate it. The simplicity of these biscuits makes them a wonderful base for desserts with cream and fruit, or a crumbly topping for trifles and stewed fruits. But for me the very best way to celebrate this humble biscuit is with a cup of tea.
You can have these biscuits plain, or scent them with everything from lemon or tangerine, to lavender, lemon thyme or caraway seeds. Just don’t go mad with these flavours, because a little goes a long way and these are nicest when the flavours are subtle.
Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas 3. Mix the flour and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your thumb and forefinger, then add your chosen flavourings (if you’re using chocolate or seeds you might want to push these into the dough at the end, after you’ve rolled it out) and squash, pat and push it into a dough. Don’t knead it, you just want to pat it down flat. Push or roll it out until it’s 1cm thick – do this directly on to a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper so you don’t have to move it. Once it’s in the shape you like – which could be square, round, or a few small finger-shapes – feel free to thumb or pinch the edges. If it splits or tears, just press it back together – but remember, the less you work the dough, the shorter and better these biscuits will be.
If you want to score lines on the shortbread so that you can click the biscuits off into pieces later, you can. Sprinkle over some caster sugar, then pop the baking sheet into the oven and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it – you want a lovely light golden colour (unless you’re making the lavenderhoney version, which will be darker). Leave to cool, then put away in a tin or serve. These will be delicious for two or three days and make a lovely present for someone special.