Traditions are important. When we participate in traditional practices, in traditional rites and rituals, we are participating in processes that sometimes have been around for hundreds and thousands of years.
Now it’s true that not all traditions stem from positive beginnings. Sometimes traditions make us lose sight of what is truly important, for instance, the tradition of Black Friday perpetuates the materialism and capitalism that lies at the heart of not only American culture but the culture of the rich West, of which we are a part.
Christmas is a larger tradition that contains within it many smaller traditions. There is the tradition in which you give presents to those you love, which comes from the legend of St. Nicholas. The tradition of the Christmas tree and the tradition of Midnight Mass.
And there is the tradition of cookies. Cookie swaps, cookies as hostess gifts, leaving cookies out for Santa – all these small traditions we rarely think about but would never consider doing without.
Shortbread is a traditionally Christmas kind of cookie, at least in my family. There is always at least one store-bought box and one tin from someone who gave it to someone who brought it to our house, knowing that we are like vultures for sweets, barely waiting until the polite amount of time has passed before busting into the biscuits.
I myself love shortbread. It’s the perfect vehicle for fancy butter, flakes of expensive sea salt and perhaps a small drizzle of deepest darkest artisinal chocolate. Traditional scotch shortbread is made from rice flour, which gives it just a hint of grainy texture, a nice change from the usual crumbly biscuit. You can use (traditional) shortbread moulds but you can also just slice them into fat fingers and dip them into your coffee.
Traditional Scotch Shortbread
Adapted (barely) from The Cook’s Companion
250 g unsalted butter, softened
125 g caster sugar
250 g plain flour
125 g rice flour
Line two baking trays with baking paper. Set aside.
Sift together plain flour and rice flour; set aside.
Cream together butter and sugar until pale. Mix in flours but do not over mix. Tip onto a lightly floured benchtop and gather together, gently pressing to combine.
Roll out to 1 1/2-2 cm thick. Slice into fingers and use a fork to prick little holes. Space out on baking trays and refrigerate at least half an hour.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Bake 15- 20 minutes, only until shortbread just begins to get a colour. It will still be soft. Let cool completely on trays. Impress your family with your delectable cookies.