Butterscotch shortbread: Plain looking, fantastic tasting
VAIL CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Don’t expect love at first sight; this Butterscotch Shortbread is hardly eye candy. But, in spite of its plain looks and informal demeanor, it draws you back, time after time, for one more bite. It makes up for its drab exterior with a crunchy, tender crumb, buttery taste, and haunting toffee-butterscotch highlights. Though not overly sugary, the lasting impression is a sweet and satisfying one.
What’s critical to its success? Good unsalted butter (it provides the dominant taste) and fresh, soft, brown sugar make the difference in this cookie’s outcome.
The brown sugar glaze is optional. Some prefer it; others like the shortbread unadorned. Its contributions are subtle: a more intense butterscotch taste and a more polished look. It won’t result in a totally smooth top for the bar; the dough is too crumbly for that.
The shortbread will keep at cool room temperature for about five days and freezes very well for a month or two.
Make in a 9-by-9-inch metal baking pan
1 1/4 cups of bleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup of cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of light brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar, preferably superfine
12 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one and a half sticks), cold if using a food processor; room temperature if using an electric mixer
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of mini butterscotch chips
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of toffee pieces for baking (Heath or Skor make these)
Optional Brown Sugar Glaze
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of cream, half and half, or milk
3 tablespoons of brown sugar, packed (use light or dark)
3-4 tablespoons of confectioner’s sugar
Step One: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the baking pan with Reynold’s Release non-stick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil, allowing it to extend beyond two opposing sides of the pan to use as handles when removing the bars. If using regular foil, butter or grease it well.
With a food processor: Place the flour, cornstarch, salt, and both sugars in the bowl of the processor and pulse until well combined. Cut the cold butter into small pieces, add them to the bowl and pulse until the dough is thoroughly moistened, no dry ingredients are visible and large curds are formed. The dough should still be shaggy, not smooth. Turn the dough out on a piece of wax paper and knead in the butterscotch and toffee pieces until they are evenly distributed and the dough smoothes out.
With a mixer: Combine the flour, cornstarch and salt in a bowl and whisk until well combined. Place the room temperature butter in another bowl and beat it until it’s light and smooth. Add the brown and granulated sugars and beat until light and creamy. Add the flour mixture in four additions, beating until completely absorbed before adding more. Knead in the butterscotch and toffee pieces by hand until they are evenly distributed.
Dump the dough into the prepared pan and smooth and level it. I do this by placing a piece of plastic wrap over the dough and pressing through it. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Bake in the preheated oven until the sides of the shortbread are turning golden brown and the center is set and has colored slightly. Check the dough after about 30 minutes; if it’s puffing, prick it with a fork again to release air bubbles. The total baking time in my oven is usually 45-50 minutes, though it depends on the actual size of the pan I’m using. (Nine inch pans can vary in size as much as an inch.)
Remove the pan from the oven and let the shortbread cool for about 10 minutes. While it’s still warm, use a thin, sharp knife, a pizza wheel, or a bench scraper to cut the shortbread into bars. (If you wait until it is completely cool it will be very difficult to cut.) Once cut, let the bars cool completely. If you’re foregoing the glaze, use the foil handles to remove the bars from the pan.
To make the optional glaze, heat the butter, cream, and brown sugar in a small saucepan over low-medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely melted (rub a little between your fingers ;you shouldn’t feel any grains). Remove from the heat and cool until just warm. Beat in the confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon, at a time, until the glaze thickens just slightly and is opaque (you may not use all of the confectioner’s sugar); it should remain pourable. Brush it over the cooled bars, covering their tops. Because of the crumbly nature of the shortbread the glaze won’t be perfectly smooth. Let the glaze set completely before using the foil handles to remove the bars from the pan.
The cookie recipe is a variation of one from “The Best American Recipes, 2002-2003.”
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at email@example.com .
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