Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"I make a dozen ideal shortbread wedges, perfect in shape, size and flavor. Warm and delicate. With a glass of cold milk, they are delicious. When shortbread melts on your tongue, you feel the roundness of the butter and the kiss of the sugar and then they vanish. Then you eat another, to feel it again, to get at that moment of vanishing. I eat myself sick on them."
~ Jael McHenry, The Kitchen Daughter
Shortbread was an expensive luxury in times past and for ordinary people, usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings, Christmas and New Year celebrations. 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! Although shortbread fingers and petticoat tails are the most common baking shapes, Walker's Shortbread, one of the most easily recognizable brands, sometimes creates special edition shapes, such as camels!
Shortbread is a biscuit or cookie traditionally made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour. Shortbread is traditionally formed into one of three shapes
A large circle, divided into segments as soon as it is taken out of the oven
"Petticoat Tails" possibly named from the French petits cotés, a pointed biscuit eaten with wine, or petites gastelles, the old French for little cakes)
Individual round biscuits (shortbread rounds) or a thick oblong slab cut into fingers
Some food historians believe that shortbread may an inherited a legacy from Black Bun, the Twelfth Night cake, which itself took the place of the even more ancient sun cakes, from Scotland’s close associations with Scandinavia.
Sun cakes were baked with a hole in the centre and symmetrical lines around, possibly representing the rays of the Sun. This scored pattern is now found on the modern Scottish shortbread, and has been misidentified as convenient slices marked onto the shortbread.
The more refined version of shortbread as we know it today is attributed to to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century. She was particularly fond of the Petticoat Tails, which in her day the shortbread was commonly flavored with caraway seeds, which were all the rage in British baking for several centuries. In fact, the earliest published shortbread recipes from the 18th century were more elaborate than the standard shortbread today: They were baked with candied citrus peels and garnished with caraway comfits.
Modern variations of shortbread include the addition of herbs or spices, variations in the mixture of flours, and for the most indulgent of treats, the sweet tooth's favourite, Millionaire's shortbread, with its layers of shortbread, caramel and chocolate!
In Shetland, it is traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride on the entrance of her new house, though she may prefer the more traditional shortbread.
Although we have not been able to find the namesake recipe for "Helen's Shortbread" should you choose to create a special Millionaire's Shortbread version, click the shortbread below!