My beautiful nanna, Joan, died just before Christmas 2009. She was 93 when she died suddently and was an amazing woman. Educated, opinionated, feminist and smart. Definitely before her time. Or maybe not. She set a fabulous example for her children, grand children and great-grand children.
Every Christmas (until a year or two ago) she would make her famous, and utterly delicious, perfectly buttery, dry melt-in-your mouth shortbread for family members. The gift became highly prized and around my family, the jar of Christmas shortbread became something to be protected from sibling five-finger-discounts. We took our eyes off the prize at our peril - because they'd miraculously disappear...
In honour of Joan, I tried to make some of her shortbread. Tried, being the operative word here. I tried at least 3 times. I discovered not only that I am a cook (intuitive) rather than a baker (precise) and that the baking of shortbread is more complicated than I thought.
Or perhaps I'm just a domestic ditz....
I discovered, quite quickly, that too much beating of the mixture, especially during a hot summer, will make the biscuits crunchy on the bottom and they won't hold their shape once they're in the oven and kind of become blob-like instead of the desired pert little bikkies. You also shouldn't handle them any more than is necessary. There's no need to aim for a perfect little round ball that will become a perfectly round shortbread. It seems the oven takes care of proportions and shapes quite nicely, thank you.
And another tip. My cousin, who annoyingly made the shortbread perfectly first go, said she beat the whole mixture with a wooden spoon (and with my Poppa by her side). So the key here could also be not to overmix. Repeat after me. Do not overmix. Do not overmix.
But don't let this put you off! Give it a go and see whether you can conquer this culinary Everest. Even the dodgey ones will still taste DELICIOUS. Ironically I still had no shortage of guinea pig relatives willing to risk health and happiness to sample my shortblobs.
Nanna's shortbread recipe
250g butter, softened
125g icing sugar (sifted)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
250g plain flour & 30g corn flour (mix these together and sift).
Cream butter & icing sugar until well-mixed. Add vanilla & salt. Add plain flour/cornflour mix until mixed together. Do this with a wooden spoon rather than a beater. Stir until just mixed.
Scoop teaspoons of the mixture with 2 teaspoons (otherwise the mixture gets too gooey and this effects the end result, believe me). Roll quickly in a ball and flatten slightly with a fork and make a cross shape with the prongs.
Cook in 180 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until very light brown. Remove after 5-10 minutes and place on wire racks to cool.
For an authentic nanna look, place baked biscuits in a Moccona jar & add a circle of Christmas fabric with a rubber band & red or green ribbon. I put mine in some fancy-schmancy trays with red cellophane. A word of warning about red cellophane. The colour will come off on the shortbread. I learned this the hard way, so I recommend clear cellophane if you are inclined to use it ;-)