A while back my friend Brenda, who lives in the wilds of Canada (not really – she lives in a big city there), shared her family recipe for traditional shortbread with me. Not long after that I went gluten free and never got a chance to try out the recipe. Lately, having had great success with Cup4Cup, I asked Brenda if she would be kind enough to share the recipe again, so I could finally give it a try. She obliged and boy, am I grateful – honestly, this is one of the best shortbreads that I’ve ever tasted, and I ate a lot of shortbread when I was studying at University, in Scotland.
I asked Brenda, who does a fair amount of gluten free baking for friends, if she would share the recipe again – to encourage her, I sent her a bag of Cup4Cup to try (she says I’m like a pusher – the “first bag is free”!) – and I also asked her for a little background on the recipe. And oh you lucky people, she agreed! We each tried the recipe substituting the Cup4Cup – she following the traditional instructions, I experimenting with baking temperatures and timing.
When I married Blair I married into his wonderful family, including his mother Gwynneth, known as Ginty. She was the best mother-in-law I could have had, with her marvellous sense of humour, her generous spirit, and her well-known inability to suffer fools at all, let alone gladly. When she married Blair’s father in 1953, her mother gave her a metal file box full of typed recipe cards. One of these recipes, for a traditional shortbread, became a family holiday tradition, so of course I had to learn how to make it. Ginty passed away in 1994 and we still miss her, but the smell of this shortbread baking evokes her memory.
Like many family recipes, there have been a few minor adjustments over the years. The original recipe gave traditional baking directions (“slow” and “medium” oven temperatures), but these have been made more precise. The recipe also indicated that the butter was to be “unsalted if possible,” but over the years we have found salted butter is best. Following Ginty’s instructions I used to mix this by hand, but I now use a Kitchenaid mixer, which does a fine job. I use the metal paddle, as the dough is quite stiff.
When I was asked for this recipe, to see if it could be adapted for a gluten-free version, I was a bit skeptical that it would ever work as a GF cookie. I have seen a lot of traditional shortbread recipes over the years, but this is the one with the fewest ingredients – could we completely change one of them and have success? But the advent of the Cup4Cup flour blend gave us some hope that it would work.
As there are only three ingredients, quality counts. Get the best butter you can afford and make sure it is room temperature, for ease of creaming. Use fresh brown sugar (I use light brown) that is not dried out, because there is no added liquid in the recipe. We have made this with Cup4Cup flour with good results. If you use a different GF flour blend you may have to add xanthan gum. You can form the rather stiff dough into molds or roll it out on a jelly roll pan (no need to grease the pan; it is very buttery). When you come to prick it with a fork and score it, we recommend scoring it into smallish squares. Let it cool completely in the pan before attempting to remove the squares – it will be quite crumbly when warm, but will firm up well.
Ginty’s Shortbread – GF version (can be doubled)
½ (226 g 2 sticks) pound salted butter (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE UNSALTED)
½ cup (100 g) light brown sugar, packed
2 cups (256 g) Cup4Cup flour blend
In a stand mixer, cream the butter, add sugar and mix well until very light and fluffy. Add the flour mix gradually, ½ cup at a time, and mix well between additions. Mix until it becomes a firm and cohesive dough. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, with lightly dampened hands, knead the dough a bit until it forms a smooth ball. The sugar should be well incorporated and not feel grainy.
Shape into rounds, cut into wedges or pat out in a ¼-sheet baking pan (half-size jelly roll pan) and flatten with a rolling pin.
Bake in a 275 degree F oven for 30 minutes, then remove from oven and prick with a fork or score into appropriate serving size pieces – we recommend smallish squares. Return to the oven and bake at 300 degrees F for 35 minutes, Remove from oven and let cool completely in the pan before moving pieces to a cookie tin that seals well. The butter flavour will develop over the next day or so.
I baked mine in a metal shortbread mold at 325 degrees F for about 35 minutes, pricking with a fork after the first 10 minutes of baking. I cut the shortbread, immediately after unmolding it from the pan, before it started to cool. As you can see in the photo below, I didn’t press my dough into the pan as carefully as I should have. Other than that, it baked up beautifully and released from the pan like a dream.
Sssssshh don’t tell anyone, but I was so excited that I forgot to use salted butter, so I sprinkled mine with maldon salt before it finished cooling and I think successfully rescued it. But please, please use salted butter, it really does make a huge difference in taste, for the better.