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The Simplest Shortbread You Can Bake

Most good cooks have a few go-to dishes they can whip up without a recipe, dependable things to make on autopilot that can be adapted to fit their hunger, the contents of their fridge, or the occasion at hand.

This truth doesn’t always extend to bakers, who are often at the mercy of a more complicated formula for their cakes and meringues. Shortbread, however, is one rich and crumbly exception.

Consisting of only four ingredients that you probably already have on hand (butter, sugar, flour and salt), and lacking in challenging techniques, shortbread is quick to master and always delightful to serve, especially as a crisp counterpart to all the soft summer fruit that’s just coming into season.

What makes shortbread so accessible is the simple ratio of its ingredients: one stick butter to one cup flour, with sugar and salt added to taste.

I like my shortbread on the sweeter, saltier side. But feel free to take the sugar and salt down if you want something more restrained.

In Scotland, shortbread is often made with a combination of rice flour and wheat flour, which gives it a distinctive brittle crispness. Rice flour has become easier to find in the United States, thanks to a growing demand for gluten-free alternatives to wheat flour. If you can get it and like a pronounced crunch, try substituting it for half a cup of the all-purpose flour. Other flours like whole wheat, buckwheat and cornmeal are also options for changing things up.

Classic shortbread generally doesn’t have any other flavorings beyond those of the core ingredients. At its simplest, it tastes of good butter and not much else. So always use the best butter you can get.

If you do want to add flavors, you can, as long as you don’t add more than a teaspoon or so of liquid (vanilla, almond extract or rum, for example) to the dough. Anything more than that can make the cookies soft rather than crisp. Dry ingredients like spices, citrus zest and vanilla seeds work better for preserving the brittle crumble of the cookie. You can also add nuts and seeds for texture and flavor.

Then bake your shortbread low and slow. It shouldn’t take on much color in the oven, staying pale on top, turning gold at the edges. Once it’s baked and stored airtight, it will maintain its crunch for weeks — if it doesn’t get devoured first.

Recipe: Shortbread, 10 Ways

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