My classic butter shortbread recipe

On April 21st, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her milestone 90th birthday. The celebrations for this historic event will continue through the coming few months.

In October last year, Waitrose launched a national competition to create a design for a special birthday cake to mark this occasion. The winner would then see their design created and on the shelves in Waitrose! As one of the judges, I can tell you it wasn’t easy – but Tilly Chisholm’s (aged 9) stunning design won.
We at Fiona Cairns feel very honoured to have been involved in this exciting project and interpreting Tilly’s design onto a cake. Her design, I think you will agree, is not only respectful but fun at the same time; with that lovely red balloon next to the crown. We are still icing many of these lovely cakes for you to buy. Here they are stacked by the till in my local Waitrose!

We do make shortbreads in the bakery to sell, but sometimes I love to make them at home if I have a spare half an hour or so. If making a batch for my freezer, I whiz up the dough, cut out the shapes and layer them up with silicone paper. This way, I can freshly bake off a dozen or so – or whatever I require. They taste delicious when just out of the oven and the smell is heavenly too. From Christmas trees and stars to, more recently, chickens, rabbits and now – what else but corgis of course!
Tip – Do remember that the thinner you roll the dough the quicker it will take to bake, and if using a larger cutter than mine indicated in the recipe, it might take a few minutes longer to bake. My instructions given are for the specified heart cutter and depth but you may need to adjust.

My classic butter shortbread recipe
My Scottish grandmother always baked shortbread with rice flour, but you can choose cornflour if you prefer: rice flour will give a granulated, crunchy result, while cornflour produces biscuits that melt in the mouth.

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500g salted butter, softened
200g golden caster sugar, plus more to sprinkle
500g plain flour, plus more to dust
250g cornflour or rice flour

Preheat the oven to 170oC/fan 160oC/340oF/gas mark 31/2. Using a large bowl and a wooden spoon, or a handheld electric whisk, or an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, then sift in the flour and cornflour gradually, mixing briefly between each addition, until it binds together. Flour your hands and gently knead until just smooth (do not over-work). To make the dough easier to roll – and if you have time – wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
On a floured board, roll out the dough to 5–6mm thick, then cut into your chosen shapes. I used a 4.5cm heart-shaped cutter. If the shortbread is to be frozen, lay the biscuits between sheets of baking parchment in a freezer container. They need to be defrosted for 1 hour before baking. Place the shortbreads on 2 baking sheets lined with baking parchment and cook for 15–20 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar, then cool for 10 minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack.
Add any of these to the butter and sugar before adding the flour:
vanilla seeds of 1 vanilla pod and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
orange-cardamom zest of 1 orange, finely grated, and 1⁄2 tsp freshly ground cardamom seeds, sifted
lemon-lavender zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, finely grated, and 4 tsp fresh lavender flowers
cinnamon 2 tsp ground cinnamon
coffee 1 tbsp instant or filter coffee dissolved in 1 tsp boiling water
salt and pepper 24 turns of a pepper mill, or to taste; also sprinkle more pepper on top with the caster sugar

Extracted from Bake & Decorate by Fiona Cairns (Quadrille) Photography: Laura Hynd

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