The first thing I knew how to bake was my family’s shortbread. I’ve known the recipe by heart since at least fifth grade, which was the year we had to give how-to speeches in Language Arts. Mine was How to Bake Scottish Shortbread, and my visual aids were bags of white flour and rice flour to pass around and let everyone feel the difference. In college, my mom used to send me care packages of shortbread, and we’d freeze a few pieces in our teeny tiny dorm freezer for shortbread emergencies. I’ve baked shortbread at least once per holiday season every year of my adult life, and it made a memorable appearance at my wedding. I make it the same way every time, and I would never, ever dare alter the recipe.
Um, until now.
Mom, you might want to avert your eyes.
We got a huge bunch of lavender from our CSA recently, and it’s been drying in the kitchen ever since. The suggested recipe that came with the bunch was for lavender shortbread, and of course I took one look at it, scoffed, and thought, “I can do better.”
Now: I set out to have measurements for this recipe. I planned to report just how much lavender you need to add to the world’s most perfect shortbread recipe for just the perfect touch of herb-y, floral flavor. But, um. Lavender is sort of a pain to work with, especially when it’s drying upside-down in your pantry. More buds ended up on the floor than in the bowl. And since most normal shortbread recipes maybe make 24 pieces, and this one makes 100+, I was kind of guessing anyway. I think I was shooting for 4 teaspoons, initially, because I couldn’t tell if the lavender technically was still fresh or if it was already dried and how that would affect the strength of the flavor. But 4 didn’t look like enough, so I went for 6, and then after I dumped that into the bowl of dough, it looked like a pitiful amount of lavender, so I scraped a few more sprigs’ worth of flowers directly into the bowl. So, um, 8 teaspoons? Enough that you can see a little bud of lavender in any 1-inch section of dough you pinch, I’d say.
And if you don’t want to mess with perfection, just omit the lavender.
1 pound (4 sticks) butter
1 1/6 c. sugar
3 c. white flour
1 c. rice flour
8-ish teaspoons of lavender flowers
1. Preheat the oven to 300.
2. Pour the sugar into a large bowl. Slice the butter into tablespoon-sized squares and add the squares to the sugar. Leave them there until softened, half an hour or so.
3. Once the butter has softened, cream the butter and sugar together with your hands until smooth. Yes, with your hands. This is a tactile recipe; put your rings somewhere safe and get ready for lots of trips to the sink.
4. Add the eggs and keep mixing with your hands, delighting in how cold and squishy it feels.
5. Add the white and rice flour and mix with your hands until everything feels thoroughly blended. (It’ll still be sticky; that’s OK.) Add the lavender and blend a little more.
6. Turn the dough out into a long baking pan (11×17 is ideal). Pat it evenly into the pan, using the heel of your hand for the center and working the dough into the corners with your fingers.
7. With a knife, score the dough both horizontally and vertically into rectangular pieces. (I usually get 9-10 pieces down the short side and 11-12 down the long side.) Prick each piece twice with a fork.
8. Bake for an hour and 10 minutes to an hour and a half, stopping when the shortbread is just golden brown. (If you know your oven bakes unevenly — mine does — rotate the pan halfway through.)