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Buttery shortbread is one of my favorite treats to make. A simple recipe with few ingredients that comes together fast is always a welcome thing to have in your arsenal, and if you tend to make yours less sweet, as I do, they are an ideal thing to keep in your cookie jar. Shortbread lasts a long time in a container at room temp, and nearly indefinitely when stored properly in the freezer. It is great with afternoon coffee or tea, or as a light sweet meal-ender, or as an accompaniment to another dessert like ice cream or pudding.
Frankly, shortbread is a nearly perfect food, and so it might seem silly to mess with it. But trust me, just because it is delightful as is, that doesn't mean it cannot be made more so with some tweaks. I've been known to add in everything from cocoa powder to cardamom, to top it with flaky sea salt or raw sugar crystals, and even zhuzh it with nuts or chips. But I always came back to basics. Until I made a batch with some corn meal.
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Why corn meal is a secret ingredient for shortbread
Corn meal, preferably stone ground, adds amazing texture and flavor to your shortbread recipe. The sweet nuttiness makes for a whole new flavor sensation and takes these cookies into a place where they can go sweet or savory as you choose. They stand up beautifully to cheeses, make a great twist on cornbread to accompany chili or stew, but are also still a perfect pairing for your afternoon cuppa.
How to swap in corn meal into shortbread recipes
You can use any shortbread recipe you already know and love. Mine is below, but if you want to experiment, start by swapping out some of your flour in your recipe with an equal amount of corn meal. I prefer finely ground, but have used coarse successfully, it just gives a more intense texture. If you want them corn-forward, use half corn meal and half all-purpose. If you want the corn meal more for texture and a mild base note, you can use as little as a quarter of your flour volume. No other adjustments need to be made to your recipe: Mix and bake as you always would. I prefer my corn shortbreads a little toastier than the traditional pale blonde of regular shortbread but make them the way you love them. I also use high quality lightly salted butter in these as the salt and corn really are great together.
1 cup lightly salted butter, softened (I love Kerrygold, Plugra, or Lurpak for this)
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup finely milled stone ground corn flour or meal
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
1. In the bowl of your stand mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and blend. Whisk the flour and corn flour together in a bowl, then add to mixer and beat until combined.
2. Either make a log with plastic wrap for slice style cookies and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to four days. If you want to cut out shapes, roll out dough between two sheets of parchment to about ½ inch thick, then stick in the fridge for at least an hour before cutting to the shapes you want.
3. When you want to bake, heat the oven to 375° and line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Slice your cookies as thin or thick as you want them, or arrange your pre-cut shapes on the pans, leaving an inch between them. Bake 9-18 minutes depending on cookie size and thickness, rotating pans halfway through. You are looking for a light golden brown on the edges, but I also sometimes like when a few get a bit darker.
4. Cool on a rack completely then transfer to an airtight container or freeze.