Baking shortbread so that it comes out perfectly is a bit of an art. It requires just the right amount of each of its three main ingredients — butter, sugar, and flour — to produce its signature crumbling, buttery lightness that also stands up to the sturdiness test. Many things can affect the outcome of this biscuit, but there are a few tips for baking shortbread that will help ensure its success. Using real, unsalted butter that is slightly softened, adding a bit of rice or cornflour, chilling the dough, and baking at a low temperature will all help shortbread rise to perfection.
Always use real, unsalted butter — never a butter substitute. The fat in butter is what gives shortbread its crumbly texture. Grade AA is the highest quality butter and is preferred for baking shortbread. Soften the butter until it is pliable but not melted or greasy and mix it with the sugar until the two ingredients are light and fluffy. One of the keys to perfect shortbread lies in the temperature, so it is important that the butter is not warmer than room temperature.
A little bit of cornflour added to regular all-purpose or cake flour gives shortbread a melt-in-the-mouth quality. Rice flour is also used in some recipes to give shortbread a sandy texture, if that is preferred. Once the flours are mixed, add a pinch of salt to the mixture, sift the flour and salt together and fluff up the mixture with a fork so it will blend well with the butter and sugar. Combine all of the ingredients until the dough starts to form, being careful not to overwork the dough, as this will make the shortbread tough.
Chilling the shortbread dough for 15 minutes helps firm it up so the shortbread biscuits maintain their desired shape as they bake. After chilling, take the dough out of the refrigerator and, using a rolling pin, gently roll it out onto a flour-dusted wooden cutting board until it is 1/2 inch (12.7 mm) thick. Cut the dough into the desired shapes and place on a cool baking sheet. Poke each shape once with a fork and place the baking sheet into the oven.
A tip for baking shortbread to its perfect color and consistency is to bake the shortbread at a low temperature — 200°F (93.3°C). This allows the shortbread to bake long enough to cook all the way through without browning or burning. By doing this, the shortbread will keep its customary pale, almost white color.