Shortbread should be easy to make. It was the first foodstuff I was ever taught how to create in my very first home economics lesson at school and is a very basic combination of butter, flour and sugar with optional assorted flavourings. After some web-based research I found so many conflicting recipes that I just decided to try and use my intuition and spend a couple of days trying different ratios and different ingredients. I chose to ignore all recipes I’d seen and leave out the sugar as I wanted a savoury biscuit and opted for a pasta flour to keep it as light as possible. So, shortbread v. 1.0 consisted of little more than flour, butter, salt and finely chopped rosemary.
It mixed together nicely and formed a reasonably workable dough sausage which I left in the freezer to harden up. And then forgot about it. It emerged an hour later (when I say ‘it emerged’, I don’t mean it managed to extricate itself from the freezer by itself, obviously I removed it) looking and feeling like a pebble so I used a knife to cut a few of bite-sized discs from it which I baked gently. They were brittle and quite tasty but not quite right so I took advice from Heston Blumenthal and added an egg yolk into the remaining dough mix. I had confidence in Heston’s recipe and cut the new dough sausage into about 15 small discs ready to bake. Surely these would be delicious? Crumbly, crunchy, buttery yet meltingly delicious in the mouth with a hint of woody rosemary – the perfect foil to the sweet fig and onion and sharp, creamy goats’ cheese? They baked slowly and once they were ready my excitement grew at the possibility of trying one. When they were cool enough to handle I popped one in my mouth. And promptly spat it out again in the manner of a small child eating mud that they thought was chocolate.
Putting egg into shortbread is disgusting. Don’t try it. v.1.2 was a disaster fit only for the compost heap.
The kitchen was slowly becoming littered with the corpses of failed shortbread and I was fast losing the will to bake. Perhaps there is something in tradition. I should know by now that baking relies on strict principles laid down by generations of housewives and only the foolhardy or those very, very good at science should attempt to re-write the rulebook (for the record, I am not very good at science). The last resort was to relent and add sugar to the mix. With a heavy head and aching fingers (the ‘rubbing method’ can be hard work) I began to craft v.1.3, tipping quantities of flour and butter and sugar and salt and rosemary into a bowl with reckless abandon. With trepidation I worked the resultant dough into the now mandatory sausage and trimmed off a succession of little shortbread rounds which went into the oven at about one o’clock…
…And came out half an hour later looking and smelling exactly like I expected rosemary shortbread to look and smell. They were brittle but able to sustain a hefty quantity of fig and onion jam as well as a generous amount of cheese. But most importantly they were terrifically tasty, which you’d expect after a mere four days of trying. Now all that remained was to decide what to have for lunch.