C. is one of those multi-talented, multi-layered, multi-lingual people that you could honestly spend forever listening to. In particular, she has that habit of saying something that sounds straightforward, but when you think about it a little, you realise how deeply complex and challenging it really is. Spend an evening with her, and she may just change your world-view, in the kindest possible of ways. I’d say she will change the world someday, but I believe she is already onto that.
In her request to the Apocalypse Bakery, C. remained true to style. Given that she is not a tea-drinker (and many of the recipes on this site have the addition of a tea recommendation) C. requested some baking that would go well with a nice cup of hot chocolate. Easy, I thought. But then, what kind of flavour do you go for? Chocolate runs the risk of over-doing it, given that a whole mug of chocolate can be overwhelming. Fruit, especially acidic fruit runs the risk of being too strong a contrast with milky, creamy drink. This was getting a bit tricky. I ended up thinking along the lines of chocolate macaroons, chocolate biscotti, or a marble cake….something that was a chocolate and cream combination but that had a very different texture, yet none of these suggestions was really that satisfying. (But fear not, they will be up on the site at some point!) And then F. made a suggestion that was, in its simplicity, quite brilliant. Shortbread.
I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before. Among the myriad of good options for hot chocolate accompaniment, there is something about a buttery, melt-in-the-mouth bit of shortbread that stands out. It can be dipped the hot chocolate- very quickly, otherwise it will just disappear in – but it is also just a good solid accompaniment.
Plus, home-made shortbread is a thing of brilliance. If you have only eaten the variety ensconced in a tin so patriotic it would make William Wallace blush, then my friends, you have not eaten shortbread.
In all honesty, I have no idea where I have picked up this recipe from. I have it neatly written out on a scrap of paper that has been taped into the back of every diary and planner I have ever owned. Partly because it requires such basic store-cupboard ingredients that it is possible to make this wherever you are, especially if you are round at someone’s house and the urge to bake for them is irresistible. Oh right, that’s just me.
50g caster sugar
1) Heat oven to 160oC, 320oF, Gas Mark 3.
2) Cream together butter and sugar.
3) Work in the flour and the cornflour until the dough is smooth. It should be a fairly stiff dough – hopefully the pictures will give you an idea of what it should be like.
4) Press the dough into a tin lined with greaseproof paper. By press, what is really meant is spoon the dough onto the tin, and press it all together into some sort of squarish shape. I’ve found that handling the dough tends to mess with the texture, so I prefer to do this all with a spoon and a knife. It needs to be quite chunky, so make it 1cm thick. Alternatively, press the dough out and use a cutter to make shapes. I personally think that this kind of dough works best when made into fingers of shortbread, but shortbread hearts are also a beautiful thing.
5) Spike the top of the dough with a fork.
6) Bake for 35 minutes. It should still be pale on top, and just firm to the touch – shortbread hardens as it cools so it really shouldn’t be too firm.
7) As soon is it is brought out the oven, mark in the lines where you will cut the square into rectangles. Sprinkle the top with caster sugar and leave to cool.
8) Once cool, use a sharp knife to cut the rectangles.
For lemon shortbread, add the grated rind of 1 lemon at step three. Lemon shortbread is a beautiful thing, but possibly not with hot chocolate.
For those of you who like the personal story…
This shortbread works a treat for getting people, specifically your partner’s parents and sister, to like you. I made a batch of this as a New Year’s gift for S.’s family the first time I met them. I’d like to say that it was my charming personality that ensured my welcome into the family, but it is more likely to be the fact that plying lovely people with shortbread is a guaranteed winner.