I’ve been searching for the ultimate traditional shortbread recipe for ages now. I love shortbread, but a lot of the recipes I find are too crumbly or too fatty for my taste. Ideally, shortbread should be a lesson in tender luxury – light and gently sweet, without leaving a fatty feeling on your palate. Finding the perfect shortbread was turning into an exercise in futility, and this lack of a decent recipe was a particular bummer around the holidays.
A few weeks back, Hank alerted me to the fact that there was a cookbook I simply must own, if I didn’t already: The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton. Being the cookbook glutton that I am, I ordered it straight away. You see, Thad was raised in Germany, so he has a soft spot for Eastern European cooking. As a fan of hearty comfort fare, I share that soft spot.
The book arrived this week, and guess what? The German Cookbook has a recipe for Mürbteig, also known as a Viennese traditional shortbread recipe. Technically this recipe is meant to be a tender, buttery pie crust, but rolled out into cookies it just so happens to make for the ultimate shortbread experience. Handy, that.
As luck would have it, Heather over at SprinkleBakes posted a similar recipe last week – almost identical to the one in the book I have here. Only her recipe was much faster, preparing the dough in the food processor, which takes a fraction of the time of the traditional recipe. Yay! The traditional shortbread recipe you’ll find below is a combination of the two recipes, starting with the traditional version in my book and ending with her much easier method, which works just as well.
Heather also turned her Mürbteig into thumbprint cookies, which I haven’t made in AGES. So guess what I did with mine? Yup, you guessed it.
These cookies are some of the best examples of shortbread I’ve ever had. They’re tender but firm, buttery while not being overly so. The hefty helping of lemon zest they contain makes for a brightness of flavor without the tang of acid, so I recommend filling the thumbprint with a really tart jam to take the to the next level (if that’s even a possibility for these cookies). If you prefer standard cut-out cookies, you can roll the dough out to 1/4-inch and have at it with cookie cutters. Just be sure to chill the cut cookies before baking.
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest, from one large lemon
- 2½ cup flour, sifted
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter, chilled, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 teaspoons white wine (or milk will work just fine)
- Flavorful jam of your choice – tart strawberry works well, as does marmalade
1. Place sugar and lemon zest in a food processor and blend for 1 minute. Add flour and salt, process for 10 seconds. Set butter chunks all around the surface of the flour mixture and process for 20 seconds, or until the butter and flour and light and powdery. Add yolks and white wine (or milk), processing for another 45 seconds, until the dough comes together.
2. Scoop dough into walnut-sized portions and roll into balls. Use your thumb to push an indentation in each cookie, making sure to not poke through to the bottom. Place the cookies on a plate and freeze for 20 minutes. 45 minutes in the refrigerator will also work.
3. Set rack to center of oven. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
4. Remove cookies from the chiller and bake for 20 minutes, removing them just as they show a hint of browning at the base and edges. Do not over bake! Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then remove to cooling rack. Allow to cool completely. Just before serving, spoon jam into the divot on each cookie.
If you like this Mürbteig recipe, you might be interested in the following resources:
- Have you ever tried working with a shortbread pan? You can also buy a springerle rolling pin, which imprints the dough with gorgeous designs as you roll over it.
- A brief history of shortbread (which originated in Scotland).
- Yes, you can make fresh jam in the wintertime using frozen fruit. Frozen at the peak of ripeness, frozen fruit is perfect for canning!