Buttery, shortbread cookies have been a traditional part of tea time in some parts of the United Kingdom since medieval times. Originating from Scotland, one popular way of preparing these time-honored sweets is to vigorously whip simple pantry items like flour, butter, cornstarch and sugar until creamy. Though these four ingredients are capable of making a respectable whipped shortbread cookie, many cooks also add ingredients like vanilla, citrus zest, cherries and nuts to make them more distinct.
Scotland is the home of shortbread. Formerly known as biscuit bread, it began as a way to put leftover dough to flavorful use by adding just sugar and yeast. Over time, butter came to replace the yeast of the original recipe, giving birth to the modern varieties like whipped shortbread and cherry-topped shortbread cookies. According to the Historic-UK Web site, Queen Mary of Scotland, in the 16th century, revered her shortbread in a triangular style that gained the name "petticoat tails," boosted with the flavor of caraway seeds. Circles are another common configuration that endures into the 21st century.
The measurements needed to bring whipped shortbread together must be precise. Otherwise, the consistency and flavor may not be optimum. A recipe at the Christmas Cookies Web site contains 1 lb. (about 0.45 kg) of butter, 1 cup (about 110 g) of sugar, 1 tsp. (about 0.167 fl oz.) of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt, whisked into a cream. Then, 0.5 cup (about 60 g) of cornstarch and 3 cups (about 330 g) of flour are added, as a mixer beats the mixture into a dense-but-malleable cookie batter. According to the English Tea Store Web site, a small amount of rice flour is often combined with mostly all-purpose flour to give the shortbread cookies their characteristically crumbled texture.
Many feed this whipped shortbread batter into a cookie press, which produces uniformly circular cookies with a rose-like top. Others roll out the dough and cut it into large triangles or thin strips for later dipping into melted chocolate. The dough can be baked for no longer than 15 minutes at 350°F (about 177°C) or for no longer than 40 minutes at 280°F (about 140°C).
Whipped shortbread, though no-nonsense, can be fancied up in a variety of ways. Cherries can be pressed into the dough before baking. The finished cookies can also be dipped in chocolate sauce or a glazing flavored with citrus zest.