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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Shortbread Cookies

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Opening my custom rolling pin at Christmas

Despite the intense summer heat, I took another shot at shortbread cookies this weekend. My mom gifted me an amazing custom-engraved rolling pin for Christmas and I was ready to try it out. I pretty much sauna-fied the entire apartment (sorry Ryan), but at least we got a tasty batch of cookies out of it!

Audrey’s Recipe Box contains 4 shortbread cookie recipes. I had tried one previously and it came out tasting like cardboard. Curiously, that was the recipe that my mom seems to recall being Grandma’s standard shortbread cookie. However, having now closely inspected all 4 recipes, I think mom may be right (aren’t moms always right?). Grandma’s shortbreads from my childhood were always rolled and cut (rather than balled and pressed) and only 2 of the 4 recipes are for rolling. The recipe below uses brown sugar, which I don’t recall being part of grandma’s recipe… so it must have been Auntie Kay’s Shortbread Cookies. So what went wrong? I believe the discrepancy is that grandma’s recipe requires pastry flour, while I was using regular all-purpose flour (the recipe just says “flour”).

Pastry flour has a lower % protein than all-purpose flour, so for these cookies, I added 2 tbsp of cornstarch per cup of all-purpose flour. The end result was sweet and delicious; not at all like cardboard! They were a little dry, however, which may be the nature of the recipe, or may be due to the extra volume of flour that got kneaded in as I re-rolled the dough. I had a difficult time working with this dough. It crumbled and cracked often. I have heard that shortbreads are difficult, so I hope that I can improve with practice!

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Shortbread Cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • ½ cup fruit sugar or lightly packed brown sugar
  • 3 cups sifted enriched pastry flour

Cream butter until very soft
Gradually blend in the sugar & cream well
Gradually mix in about 2 cups of the sifted flour
Turn out dough onto baking board that is generously sprinkled with the remaining flour & knead into the dough until it cracks on the surface – takes about 1 cup more

Roll out dough on lightly floured board to about ¼ to ⅛ thickness & shape with cutters
Bake on ungreased baking pans in slow oven 300°F 20-30 min

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Audrey’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Audrey’s famous chocolate chip cookies need no introduction, but I’m going to give them one deserving of their reputation. They are Audrey’s most popular creation and certainly the most delicious. The Clarke family estimates* that she has baked over 100,000 of these cookies in her lifetime!

*Want to see the math? Scroll to the bottom of the post!

The recipe came from a family friend named Beth Smith, wife of Stouffville’s Dr. Don Smith. Audrey’s daughter Susan and Beth’s daughter Paddie were born in the same year and became childhood friends. Audrey must have a truly special talent for baking because in 2004 at their high school reunion, Paddie recalled to Susan that Audrey’s chocolate chip cookies were the best in town!

Outside of Audrey’s circle of family and friends, these cookies (and Audrey’s recipe box in general) are continuing to grow in reputation. I entered them in my company bake-off last year and took home the prize for Best Cookie! It was a delight to bake a simple, classic cookie from Grandma Clarke’s repertoire and come away with a win.

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Rumour has it that these cookies are even responsible for keeping a romance alive! In 1984, a handsome young pilot from Tennessee caught the eye of Susan Clarke. It was a tradition at FedEx for jumpseaters (pilots flying along in a spare seat) to bring treats for the flight crew. Rog Sphar is speculated to have been given special priority for flights to Ontario… if a batch of Audrey’s chocolate chip cookies were coming along!

Rog and Susan were married 4 years later in 1988. They have two children, Nate and Rebecca, who are both big fans of Grandma Clarke’s chocolate chip cookies.

To all of my cousins and aunts and uncles and in-laws and out-laws: I am so excited to share this recipe with you! It is a hugely important part of our family history and I want us all to keep Grandma’s baking tradition alive, one cookie at a time…

Or roughly 18 cookies at a time! The recipe doesn’t say how many or how large to make these cookies, but trust me: if you make only a dozen, you will have 12 very large cookies. In my experience, classic Grandma-sized cookies (dolloped on the sheet with a heaping tablespoon) can be achieved in batches of 16-20.

As always, remember to check your cookies early (around the 8 minute mark) if you’ve got an oven that runs hot like mine. The cookies are done when they are just starting to appear slightly golden. They may look underdone and overinflated, but they’ll settle as they cool.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • ½ cup shortening [or butter]
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ cups of flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup chocolate chipits

chocolate_chip_cookies_3Cream or mix together shortening, vanilla, and sugars
Add egg (well beaten)
Beat thoroughly
Add sifted dry ingredients & mix in
Stir in chocolate chipits
Drop on greased cookie sheet
Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes
Cool

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Porcelain sleeping cat plate from EarlyBirdDesignsShop on Etsy.

Let’s Do The Math

The Clarke family believes that Audrey has baked over 100,000 of these chocolate chip cookies in her lifetime. Let’s crunch some numbers.

An original estimate of “75,000 served” was made in 1984 by my dad, Larry Gibbs. He based his estimate on Audrey’s frequency of baking with respect to the number of years she has had the recipe. Although we’ve lost the original numbers, if we assume that she acquired the recipe around 1949 (age 20), that gives us 120 batches per year (at 18 cookies per batch).

75000 / (1984 - 1949) = 2142.86
2142.86 / 18 = 119.04

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Audrey in 2013 with her Audrey’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies plaque from 1984

Sound crazy? Then you haven’t seen Audrey bake! Even well into her 60s, Grandma Clarke was baking at least a dozen of something every day! Add several bonus dozens around each holiday, church event, or community bake sale and we can comfortably say that Audrey baked 400-500 dozens of cookies (or individual pies, cakes, etc) per year.

If we extrapolate from our previous estimate to include an additional 15 years from 1985-2000, then we can confidently estimate that Audrey has baked over 100,000 of her famous chocolate chip cookies.

2142.86 * (2000 - 1985) = 32142.9
75000 + 32142.9 = 107142.9

And there you have it, folks. Over 100,000 chocolate chip cookies served!

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie

Oatmeal cookies are sweet and comforting. When my coworker, Tristan, asked if Grandma Clarke had a good oatmeal chocolate chip cookie in her repertoire, I went hunting! There are two oatmeal cookie recipes in Audrey’s Recipe Box, both of which include optional chocolate chips or raisins. I opted for the one called The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie for obvious reasons.

These cookies are delicious! The ratio of chocolate chips to not-chocolate chips is spot on (i.e. mostly chocolate chips) and the cinnamon adds a mild spiciness. I cut the recipe in half, as the original makes 3 dozen. I also found that 9-11 minutes cooking time was too much for my very hot gas oven. I achieved light golden brown cookies after only 8 minutes. Keep a close eye on your cookies!

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie Recipe (front)

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie Recipe (back)

The Ultimate Oatmeal Cookie

  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup margarine or soft butter
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups quick cooking or old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or 1 cup raisins

Tasty oatmeal cookieHeat oven to 375°F.
Mix all ingredients except oats, flour, & raisins in large bowl.
Stir in oats, flour, and raisins or chocolate chipits.
Drop by tablespoonful about 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 9-11 minutes until light brown.
Immediately remove from cookie sheet.

Makes 3 dozen.

Auntie Kay’s Shortbread Cookies

Auntie Kay's Shortbread Cookies

Shortbreads were one of Grandma Clarke’s most popular cookies. I have fond memories of decorating dozens of cookies with her each Christmas. Her shortbreads were almost always rolled and cut with cookie cutters. She had a collection of Christmas-themed cookie cutters which included an angel, a bell, a tree, a snowman, and Santa. I loved to meticulously select sprinkles and place them on the dough in precise patterns, but Grandma would only let me do a few before she insisted that they get into the oven. Only 1 or 2 dozen shortbreads stayed at home for us to enjoy, while many more dozens were packaged up as gifts or donated to the church, where they would be sold at a bake sale or enjoyed by the congregation after holiday services.

Grandma’s shortbread were that perfect balance of buttery, melt-in-your-mouth flavour and crumbly, delicate texture. Shortbreads are difficult to get right, but the hardest part is not knowing which recipe to follow: there are at least three shortbread recipes in the box!

I tried a recipe called Auntie Kay’s Shortbread Cookies. I could have guessed from the name that this wasn’t going to be the shortbread recipe that I knew and loved from childhood, but it was the first one I pulled and I had all the ingredients handy.

No offense to Auntie Kay, but these cookies are not good. They are dry and plain. I’m glad that I halved the recipe, because it makes two dozen and I think the better part of my one dozen are going to end up in the garbage.

It’s disappointing to have my first post on this blog be a failure, but I set out to document the entire process and failure is an important part of learning. Next time I will use less flour, more butter, and more sugar. I’ll be checking the proportions more carefully when I select which shortbread recipe to try next!

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Auntie Kay’s Shortbread Cookies

  • 1 lb butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 1¼ – 1½ cups icing sugar
  • 5 cups 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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Hand-painted ceramic plate from TheRusticHome on Etsy