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Chef Sue Lawrence is a fan of sweet things, and the Scottish classic, shortbread, is a favourite.
But not many people know the history of the sweet biscuit. The story of shortbread begins with the medieval "biscuit bread". Any leftover dough from bread making was dried out in a low oven until it hardened into a type of rusk: the word "biscuit" means "twice cooked". Gradually the yeast in the bread was replaced by butter, and biscuit bread developed into shortbread.
Shortbread was an expensive luxury and for ordinary people, shortbread was a special treat reserved just for special occasions such as weddings, Christmas and New Year.
In Shetland it was traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride on the threshold of her new home. The custom of eating shortbread at New Year has its origins in the ancient pagan Yule Cakes which symbolised the sun. In Scotland it is still traditionally offered to "first footers" at New Year.
If you fancy making some for your guests this Christmas, or to first footers, here is the recipe for Sue’s shorbread petticoat tails!
Ingredients (Makes 16)
* 175g/6oz slightly salted butter, softened
* 85g/3oz golden caster sugar + extra to sprinkle
* 200g/7 oz plain flour, sifted
* 50g / 1¾ oz cornflour, sifted
1. Cream the butter and sugar together until really creamy and pale. This will take 4–5 minutes in a food mixer (double by hand)
2. Now add the combined flour and cornflour a tablespoonful at a time, only adding more when incorporated. When all mixed in, bring together with your hands and divide into 2 balls
3. Roll out each ball (either by pressing with your palms if you have cold hands OR with a very light touch of a rolling pin) to a circle just a little shy of your 2 prepared tins (lightly buttered 18cm/7” sandwich tins)
4. Prick all over with a fork (ensure you go right through to the base) and “scallop” the edges by nicking round the edges with the edge of a spoon
5. Place in a preheated oven (150C/300F/Gas2) for 35-40 until a pale golden brown
6. Remove the tins to a wire rack, cut each into 8 triangles and sprinkle over some sugar
7. Leave for 15-20 minutes or so then remove from the tin while still a little warm but firm enough to be removed. Leave on a wire rack until cold