Ok, so there was snow on the ground in Chicago this week. It was Easter a few days ago, the first day of spring was a few weeks before that. Lame. This isn’t atypical for Chicago, but that doesn’t mean it’s fun. My head is firmly on to the next season, and so I’m going to keep on fighting for warmer weather with today’s recipe.
Shortbread, like most old recipes, has a somewhat murky origin story. Certainly some form of shortbread has existed for hundreds of years, although when you might consider it the modern version we now know and not just a tasteless biscuit is hard to the say. The British make a claim for the modern version, with the first instance of the recipe in print attributed to one Mrs. McLintock in 1736. The Scots make their own claim, and there’s no doubt shortbread has long been connected to the country because of its popularity during the holidays and also because of the prevalence of the Walker’s Shortbread product. The Walker’s website makes a direct claim of Scottish ownership (specifically to Mary Queen of Scots in the 16th century) but it’s not like it would be a good business practice for them to say otherwise. Whatever the case may be, chalk this up to another mostly trivial disagreement over a food that doesn’t need a clear origin for all of us to love it.
Speaking of love, I have always really loved shortbread, and I think it is a seriously underrated cookie. Its strength is in its simplicity, and what it lacks in the flair it makes up for in cookie sophistication. Buttery flavor, hint of salt, perfect crisp, sandy texture, you can’t go wrong. It’s a great cookie to have on its own, but it really shines as part of a coffee or tea service. We happen to have it on our spring tea menu at the hotel right now (with grapefruit and rosemary). The recipe itself comes from my Sous Chef Danielle, who generally has better recipes than I do, and I’ve just tweaked the flavor additions to suit my vision for a spring without late season snow.
This recipe is about as simple as it gets. You can add just about any flavoring you’d like (or none) and the dough will hold it well. Because of the high fat content of the dough, you always want to bake the cookies chilled.
lemon thyme shortbread
30g lemon juice about 1 lemon
130g powdered sugar
Combine all ingredients and mix until smooth.
Cover the glaze with plastic wrap to touch and reserve to use later.
375g butter unsalted
475g all-purpose flour
9g vanilla extract
10g lemon zest about 2-3 lemons
Bring the butter to room temp. before getting started.
Finely chop the fresh thyme and reserve to use later.
Combine all of the ingredients in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, zesting the lemon directly onto the mixture.
Mix until just combined.
Shape the dough into a block 1.5”/3.8cm thick, and 6×6”/15.2×15.2cm.
Wrap and refrigerate for 1hr. min.
Cut the block into strips 2” wide.
Brush each strip of cold dough with egg white, then roll in turbinado sugar.
Cut the strip into ½” pieces and lay them plat on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.
Bake the cookies at 350F/176C for 10-12min., rotating in the middle of the baking time.
Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool for 1-2min., then brush the centers of the cookie with lemon glaze.
Allow the glaze to dry for 1-2min. and brush a second layer, 1-2 cookies at a time, immediately decorating with lemon zest after brushing.