Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Butter Chronicles, Better Butter - Part 2

Let the butter battle begin! 
To put butter to the test to see if all butter is not really created equal I decided to use the mutha of all butter recipes, traditional Scottish Shortbread to see if there really was a different. The results for the tasting of the Shortbread will tumble in over the next few days but until then I wanted to cover off a couple of things.
As I said this is a traditional Scottish Shortbread. It is pure, basic & simple. It contains 4 ingredients: Butter, Sugar, sifted Flour and finally Rice Flour. (Recipe is below) I always use Fruit Sugar (also known as Castor or Quick Dissolving Sugar) and it has a very fine consistency. Rice flour will give Shortbread the powdery crispiness that should be associated to Shortbread. I always sift the rice flour and the white flour together. In this test I used salted butter.
Some recipes will call for a touch of salt so I thought by using salted butter that would suffice. You can really dress Shortbread up by doing things like adding vanilla, infusing lavender, adding chocolate or cocoa powder or dusting the Shortbread with Turbinado sugar before baking. However for this testing purpose I just
wanted to keep it really simple and let the butter
do all the talking. 

Some really quick and helpful tips on handling and making Shortbread:
  I mix the butter and sugar with a blender. When gradually folding flour into the butter/sugar mixture I ALWAYS use a wooden spoon. I mix it until I reach a point that kneading the dough is required.

I am careful not to add any more flour as it'll stiffen the dough, making it dry. Do not over knead the dough. The warmth of your hands will alter the consistency since this is a butter based recipe.

Always use a fork and just gently pierce the Shortbread before baking. This will allow steam to escape while baking and it helps to prevent the Shortbread from getting soggy. My Mother, who
was one of the most traditional Shortbread purists I ever knew always told me that when you want to cut Shortbread apart (this if you make it in "cakes" as I do, as opposed to cookies), you take a knife, making a score along the Shortbread and then you snap it. You never cut it all the way through
with a knife because my Mother always told me that the metal against the cooked Shortbread
altered the flavor.

So here are my comments about these three different batches: I took extra careful steps to make sure all mixing times (blending of butter & sugar etc.) were consistent. I kept the cooking times (25 mins. at 275 degrees) exactly the same and cooked all trays in the very centre of the oven, one at a time. I used parchment on the trays to prevent sticking. I wanted to make sure that I produced the 3 separate batches exactly the same.

Test Batch 1:

The mixture was slightly crumbly and as I cut it to push the dough into the mould I had to keep pushing it back together. Batch 1 browned the most on the bottom. It has a relatively smooth finish on the final baked product.

Test Batch 2:

This batch was the driest of all three. It crumbled constantly while kneading and while placing into the moulds. It also browned well on the bottom but off the batches it had the least smooth finish on the final baked product.

Test Batch 3:

This batch mixed the easiest and the quickest. There was absolutely no crumble factor here with the dough. It was pliable, almost like well worked plasticine. It was the lightest in colour and finished up lightest in colour of all three doughs. Its finish though was the smoothest. It was the least cripsy in texture compared to the other two. Most interesting about this Shortbread was that weight wise it was the lightest and seemed to have less dense consistency. While cooked at 25 minutes like the other batches, if I were to use this butter again I would recommend another five minutes of baking time.

Note all 3 trays side by side.  You can see the difference in texture and colour in the baked product. 

So, now let the official Tasting begin!
  I've made up a test sheet to keep it more simple for the tasters. I'm going to ask my tasters to look for the following things: flavour of the butter, consistency of the baked product, colour (on both top and bottom side), powederiness, and just general all over quality. Then finally rank them in order of preference.
So stayed tuned for The Butter Chronicles Part 3 - The Tasting.....Let Them Eat Shortbread!

Shortbread Recipe:
1 lb. butter (at room temperature)
1 Cup Fruit/Castor Sugar (also known as Quick Dissolving Sugar)
3 Cups of Flour
1 Cup of Rice Flour - sift flours together

Preset oven at 275 degrees.
Cream butter, add sugar and continue to cream together. Mixture will begin to pale when it is thoroughly mixed. Add flour in three batches, mixing with a wooden spoon. Dump mixture on to a clean surface and quickly knead dough until it forms a ball.

If you are using moulds, be sure to flour them before pressing in dough. If making cookies, roll to about quarter inch depth, cut into small rectangles or use cookie cutter. Place on a baking sheet (I put parchment on baking sheet). Gently/lightly pierce each piece with a fork. Bake 20-30 minutes, until golden. Let cool on tray. Store in an air tight container. Shortbread also freezes really well.

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