Auntie Kay’s Shortbread Cookies (for real this time)

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Good news, everyone! I figured out the secret to Auntie Kay’s Shortbread Cookies!

With Christmas fast approaching, I was eager to break out the Christmas-themed cookie cutters and take this recipe for a second spin…

The last time I made these cookies, they came out tasting like cardboard and I had to throw away most of the batch (yep, that bad). Mom was sure this was the right recipe, though! We eventually determined that the problem was the flour. The recipe card simply calls for “flour”, which I took to mean all-purpose flour. Wrong! It was supposed to be pastry flour!

Rather than buying a 5 lb bag of some new-fandangled type of flour, I created my own pastry flour: for every 1 cup of all-purpose flour, remove 2 tbsp and replace it with 2 tbsp of cornstarch. Sift well and there you have it: homemade pastry flour.

shortbread_2I followed the same recipe with this 1 minor change and the result was AMAZING. I couldn’t believe it! From sawdust to stardust! I knew it was going to be a success as soon as I started forming and rolling the dough. It felt like Grandma’s shortbread dough! The way it rolled and cracked and re-rolled was just right.

At first I was surprised by such a major difference in the consistency of the dough (and ultimately, the texture and flavour of the cookie) just from a few tablespoons of cornstarch, but scientifically it makes sense. The difference between pastry flour and AP flour (and indeed any other variety of flour) is the protein content. And protein is what forms gluten, which is what creates structure in baked goods! So it follows that using a slightly different flour can yield vastly different cookies.

Baking these cookies was a joy! Every step of the process was nostalgic for me: sifting the flour, rolling and cutting the dough in Grandma’s classic Christmas cookie cutter shapes, the smell of shortbread baking in the oven… it was like being back in Grandma’s kitchen at 54 Lloyd Street, helping bake holiday cookies with her. I miss you, Grandma!

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Auntie Kay’s Shortbread Cookies

  • 1 lb butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 1¼ – 1½ cups icing sugar
  • 5 cups [pastry] flour

Cream butter, vanilla, & salt.
Add icing sugar & beat.
Add flour a cup at a time & beat.
Roll until ¼” thick & cut.
Ungreased sheets. (Editor’s note: I recommend greasing your cookie sheets)
350°F Approx 12 min.

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