Not many people would call traditional Scottish food delicious, or even appetizing. My husband and I traveled throughout Scotland a few years back and I will say this. Neither would I. I can easily compare traditional Scottish food with my own regional and traditional Appalachian food.
The morning we left for Ben Nevis (the highest peak in Scotland) I ordered the seemingly innocent eggs Benedict from the hotel kitchen. Somehow I ended up with an undercooked egg on top of deep fried toast and a side order of baked beans.
I think I would have been alright that day, if it were not for the first stop we made at a Woolery and gift shop. It was raining and cold, and most all of us needed a warm pull-over or jacket. The store was very warm and inviting. As I browsed I happened upon a little nook away from the clothing department. There sat a small table with an attractive array of Scotch samples. "White Blended Scotch Whiskey" I read. I was overtaken by curiosity. Of course in hindsight it was stupidity. I sampled a few. It was 10 a.m. and I had a two hour jostling, nauseating bus ride ahead of me. And after that another hour long choppy boat ride.
After enduring them both, we arrived at the Colombia hotel. Nauseated and sea-sick I remember feeling relieved and thankful to finally be stationary. My stomach was in dire need of settling. While Mark kindly left to find a drugstore (or chemist), I found a little welcome sampler from the hotel staff. The gift pack held teas, candies and many packages of shortbread. I quickly plugged in the provided electric pitcher and soon had eaten several pieces of shortbread. The tea was warm and soothing and the short bread was delicious in it's plainness. I was feeling better already.
It was only recently that I had the notion to replicate the cookie that had been so comforting to me. I soon found a very old Scottish recipe that I altered slightly. The dough came together quickly. It is buttery, crumbly, not too sweet and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. My shortbread tasted just as it had that night at the Columbia.
1 pound unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 cups all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and mix again. Add two cups of flour and the pinch of salt and mix on low speed until a dough forms. Add the last two cups of flour and mix again on low until a very stiff dough forms.
Gather dough together with your hands and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide into two pieces. Using a floured rolling pin, roll each piece of dough until flattened to about 1” thickness. Wrap in plastic film and place pieces on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. This dough will firm up in quickly because of the high butter content. If your dough is difficult to roll, let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes until it is pliable.
While still cold, roll out dough to ¼” thickness. For perfectly even shortbread, use two ¼” flat dowels on either side of the dough as a guide. Rolling pin guide bands are also available in varying sizes at kitchen specialty stores.
Cut dough into desired shapes. Bake on parchment lined cookie sheets until lightly golden around the edges:
7-10 minutes for small cookies
12-15 minutes for medium cookies
17-20 minutes for large cookies