SlowPainful Shortbread

I couldn’t face the fact that the previous post was nearly 3,000 words including the recipe.  So here it is, as a separate post.

Never, I mean never, forget how good I am to you.  Deal?  Deal.

SlowPainful Shortbread

The ingredients are below, UNDER “Method”.  That’s because I “go on a bit” about the ingredients, so if you’re a beginner, you’ll still be able to make the shortbread and understand what you’re doing. I’m rarely this kind or helpful, so take advantage and don’t push your luck.


1. Make sure that you have one of the oven racks at about the middle of the oven.

2. Turn on your oven to 325F.  Do this NOW before you do anything else and it will be pre-heated by the time you’ve mixed the dough.  (DO NOT turn on the oven higher than required with the idea this will speed things up.  That’s not how ovens work and anyway, please follow the directions!  OMG!  I’m irritated already!)

3. Add the butter, sugar and vanilla extract (if using) to a bowl.  How big a bowl?  A big-enough bowl!  Use a big metal salad fork (or your mixer if you must) to squish the soft butter and sugar together, then vigorously mix and whip the butter and sugar for about two minutes, till the butter is fluffy and paler than when you started.

4. Add the flour to the bowl and use the fork to mix it with the butter and sugar.  Mix it well so there are no dry bits of flour remaining. It will be quite soft and squishy.

5. With your hand, gather the dough together into a ball and squish it against the bowl with the heel of your hand.  Fold it over and do this again.  Do this about four times, but no more.

6. Shape the dough into a ball. If you want to be REALLY good, put the dough in the fridge for about 15 minutes to let it rest before continuing.  But you won’t, will you?

7. Either take the dough from the fridge and continue or just continue: Find a baking sheet (no need to grease it), place the ball in the center and use your palm to press it flat, then press all around the edges so that it looks like the mashed potato mountain that Richard Dreyfus makes in “Close Encounters,” that is, higher in the centre with thin edges.  Now gradually press it flat into a disc about 8 to 9 inches in diameter, it will be about 1/4 thick or maybe a little thinner.

8. Use the fork and stab it all over the dough to make tiny holes (this will help it cook evenly in the centre).

9. Take a knife and drag it vertically across the dough to make a line that divides the dough in two from top to bottom.  Now do the same horizontally.  Now do the same for each quarter, making 8 wedges.

10. Use the the fork and press the tines flat all around the edge of the dough to make a simple “petticoat” decoration or just say “fuck it” and go on to the next step.

11. Put the baking sheet of dough in the oven and set your timer to 15 minutes.

12. At fifteen minutes, check the shortbread.  It should just be barely golden around the edges.  If it still looks raw let it go one or two minutes more, but no more.

13. Obviously, if it’s dark brown around the edges because you ignored me about turning the oven up higher, take it out and have a maudlin narcissistic breakdown as you cry about what a failure you are and how nothing ever goes right for you.  If you’re doing this for sympathy from someone in the room, this is when you allow them a few moments to “there, there” you.  You’d better have someone in the room, though, cause you WON’T get any sympathy from me. I TOLD YOU SO and  I AM IMPLACABLE. Once you’re done crying, proceed to 14.

14. Remove the shortbread from the oven and let it cool in the pan for a while, OR, just shove crumbling, still-cooking, moist bits of hot shortbread into your mouth and burn your tongue, thus ruining the whole enterprise because of your greedy impatience.

But waiting is worth it and will produce a crispier shortbread.


Take a bow!  For the full SlowPainful ambience, serve with Earl Grey tea, preferably No-Name Earl Grey tea from No-Frills.  (Or, continue crying and eating the hot shortbread as you gasp and sniffle.  A well-executed narcissistic breakdown can fill up an entire empty day!)


One stick of salted butter (or 1/2 c. ), softened. (or unsalted but then add a good pinch of salt to the ingredients).
Measurements of volume are confusing and inaccurate, but that’s what we use.  The amount of butter is half a cup by volume but by weight it’s 1/4 pound.

If you’re a beginner cook, do one of the following:  1. buy one stick of butter and use that; 2. squish some soft butter into a 1/2 c. measuring cup; 3. cut a pound of butter lengthwise into two, then cut the halves again the same way, then use one of the resulting sticks; 4. buy a half-pound and cut it into two and use one of the resulting sticks; 6. If your pound or half-pound of butter has guidelines on the wrapper indicating cups, follow those and cut off the right amount; 5. if you have a scale, weigh out a quarter-pound of butter = 4 oz. / 125g if you’re a communist and use metric. (Sheesh.  Are you always this high-maintenance?)

If you forget to take the butter out of the fridge so it softens, and like me you don’t have a microwave:  This is my patented method — grate the hard butter on the large holes of a box grater into the mixing bowl.  Genius!

1/4 c. white sugar
/ or soft light brown sugar, in Canada called “cassonade” in French, in which case I have to say “1/4 c brown sugar, packed,” it’s the tradition.)

1 c. white flour
all-purpose, or if you’re feeling experimental use Monarch “cake and pastry flour,” which is made from softer wheat, but don’t come crying to me.

Don’t scoop up the flour using the measuring cup, you’ll pack it in and get too much.  Spoon the flour into the cup, level it off.  This way you’ll be accurately inaccurate.

A cap-full of vanilla extract
OMFG NOT the “artificial”!  PURE VANILLA EXTRACT! The real shit, please, it’s honestly better to leave it out if you don’t have.

If you have aspirations, or even pretensions, which are aspirations that have smoked a spliff and gotten ahead of themselves, you can invest in a vanilla bean — slit the bean lengthwise and use the tip of a knife to scrape out the unpromising looking black sludge of seeds and add that to the mixing bowl.

Your shortbread will be flecked with those tiny flecks of black that absolutely scream “high-end” so loud they can hear it all the way to Des Moines, and will taste wonderful, too.

(TIP: Place the used vanilla bean in your bag of sugar to flavor the sugar.  Be sure to post a pic of this on Instagram, sweetie.)

Alternatives to vanilla:
first alternative is : nothing at all, your shortbread will still taste yummy

Try the following once you’ve made the recipe with or without vanilla.  Add these to the butter and sugar in the bowl BEFORE you mix up the dough.  The amount of liquid if any should be very small, no more than, well, the cap of vanilla, right? Call it 1/4 teaspoon :

  • A little lemon zest grated on the tiny holes of your box grater plus a tiny squish of lemon juice. Don’t go all gung-ho with the grater and end up with the bitter white pith! Just the zest. (If you want to make yourself and/or a five-year-old child laugh, by the way, try saying “white pith” several times, slowly and with a serious expression.  Go on, try it.)
  • Or use an orange / tangerine / lime
  • If you like ginger, buy some root ginger, peel a chunk and cut off a piece about the size of a quarter. Grate this ginger into the dough, using the smallest holes on your box grater. This will also produce a bit of  “ginger juice”.  Discard the fibrous bits that will be left in your hand after grating.  You will have ginger shortbread and it is “different, eh?”
  • Experiment with a tiny bit of ground spices: cardamom is divine, I’ve even used garam masala (!).  But if you like the spice, go for it.
  • Personally, I despise cinnamon, but there’s no accounting for taste.