Updated: Jun 14, 2019
There seems to be an apocryphal myth out there that making shortbread is difficult when, in reality, it is one of the easiest bakes to do with smalls and lends itself beautifully to being adapted to a variety of tasks. Here is my go-to, successful every time, three-step recipe.
Pre-weigh your ingredients if making with little ones to make the process cleaner and easier.
You will need 170g of unsalted butter and 85g caster sugar in one bowl. Then 230g plain flour and 30g corn flour in another.
Mix together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer or using an electric whisk. It is possible to do it by hand with a wooden spoon, but you'd need to soften the butter first and obviously this would not be something a small could manage. If you're letting the smalls operate the mixer it's worth putting a length of greaseproof paper underneath and across the worktop for a quick clean up afterwards. My biggest LOVES a speed mix!
Scoop / tip / pour in your flour mixture.
(I thoroughly recommend using high sided scoops for this when baking with smalls as they contain more mixture and limit the mess you'll get if you go down the traditional spoon route.) Then use your hands to bring it all together into a dough. The easiest way to do this is with a manoeuvre I like to call 'the claw!'
Imagine one of those Toy Story arcade games where you have no hope of grabbing the big soft toy - make that shape with your hand, then squeeze the ingredients and twist. Repeat until you have your smooth dough. If you are using a mixer you can give it a quick blitz first to get it started, but a mixer won't bring it together for you - plus this is the bit the smalls like best.
If you struggle to bring the dough together you can add the tiniest bit of water. I'm talking minuscule though. Literally two tiny tap drops. Don't risk more or you'll have sticky, unusable dough.
Roll the dough to about 1cm thick and cut into the shapes of your choice. Top Tip - put the dough between two sheets of greaseproof paper to roll it out. This gives you a smoother roll and makes it all less messy.
Bake the biscuits on a tray lined with greaseproof paper.
The length of time will depend on the size of biscuit. Quite large ones will take about 12 minutes, where as smaller shapes will be done in about 8 minutes. The good thing about biscuits though, it that you can't ruin them by opening the oven door like you can with cake. So just keep an eye on them. The key is taking them out when they are still pale and just firm. Don't wait for them to go golden! They will keep cooking as they cool down (preferably on a wire rack, but a chopping board will do), so if you leave them in the oven too long they will go brittle and unshortbread-like.
That's it. That simple. Keep reading for variations and ideas for decorating.
Optional Flavour Additions
Best added with the butter
1 tbsp grated lemon or orange zest
1 tbsp dried lavender flowers
1tsp ground ginger
85g toasted and ground hazelnuts
* Make simple round biscuits and dip half in chocolate.
* Use a pre-made royal icing mix to make up pots of different coloured icing and let the smalls go all artistic!
* Use the petals of edible flowers (do your research first) and paste them onto the biscuits (before baking) with egg white and then sprinkle with sugar.
* Use a biscuit stamp to imprint a pattern on the biscuits before baking.
Max out the Bake
If you're going to do a slightly higher maintenance activity like baking, then you may as well maximise it's potential. When I make shortbread I always double the ingredients and put half the dough in the freezer. That way I know that if I want a speedier bake another time I can simply defrost this over night and have it ready to cut and bake the next day skipping the weighing and measuring entirely.
Alternatively, if we have a play date or need something super speedy, then I might even bake the biscuits myself in the evening and have them ready for a simple decorating activity.
Make the effort once, but get double the fun!