I’m a slowpoke in the kitchen. Always was, and I guess I always will be; I haven’t gotten a second faster since I started cooking decades ago. Don’t look for me on any of the competitive cooking shows — just thinking about that ticking clock gives me hives. But even I, who considers baking a form of meditation, can get this shortbread in the oven in about 15 minutes. Not that I’ve ever timed myself . . .
Shortbread comes in so many varieties: Some have eggs, some don’t; some use a little rice flour or cornstarch, some go completely with all-purpose; some are rolled out, some not; some are shaped like regular cookies, some like bars and some like wedges. What almost all shortbread have in common is their shortness, a reference to the generous amount of butter in the dough, and their texture, which is often described as sandy, a very good thing in the cookie world.
This shortbread recipe is eggless, uses only all-purpose flour, is pressed into a pan and then cut into wedges. It is as rich as it should be and just as sandy. I’ve flavored it with lemon zest and lemon oil (you can use extract) and speckled it with poppy seeds. (A quick word on poppy seeds: Taste them before you use them — they have a nasty habit of going rancid, even when you’ve stored them in the freezer.) I’ve also iced the cookies, but as with so many of my favorite recipes, this one’s amenable to changes of whim and whimsy.
The best shortbreads are the ones you fuss with least. Let “benign neglect” be your motto as you make these. Beat the butter and sugar together really well and then go very easy on the flour. Add it all at once and mix just enough to have it form moist curds. If the dough sticks together when you squeeze it, you’re done.
Turn everything into the pan and press it down with your fingers. I like to give the dough a little roll. It not only knits the dough together and smooths the top, but, nerd-alert, I get a kick out of rolling with a DIY pin: I use a spice jar, an extract bottle or the bottom of a measuring cup.
By now, you’re about nine minutes into the job, and all you’ve got left to do is prick and press. To divide the shortbread into wedges, which you’ll cut once it’s baked, use the tips of the tines of a table fork to prick through the dough and form a dozen triangles, then flip the fork over and use the flat side of the tines to press around the border. The press marks are more decorative than practical, but I like the way they look when the shortbread is baked.
Now it’s just a matter of waiting out the baking and cooling time. While you’re waiting, you can think about what you might do the next time you bake shortbread — and I can guarantee you there’ll be a next time. Perhaps you’ll replace the lemon with orange or lime or just use twice the amount of vanilla extract; omit the poppyseeds and go plain or add sesame seeds, chopped chocolate or maybe some lavender; or flavor the shortbread with instant espresso or even tea. Got other ideas? Let me know.
Greenspan is the award-winning author of 11 cookbooks, the most recent of which is “Baking Chez Moi.” Read more on her Web site, www.doriegreenspan.com, and follow her on Twitter: @doriegreenspan. She will host her Just Ask Dorie chat from 12 to 1 p.m. on Thursday at live.washingtonpost.com.