Friday, 25 January 2013

Short and Sweet

Robert Burns

My husband is having two mates from the pub over tonight for a Burns Supper. While these Burns Night celebrations can be steeped in tradition and have a fairly rigid format, I'm sure Neil's will be informal and less structured (and involve plenty of malt whiskey).

Robert Burns is a Scottish poet (1759-1796) whose birthday is celebrated worldwide on Jan. 25. The holiday can be observed with much pomp and circumstance or very little ballyhoo. No matter how you celebrate though, three things are usually involved: haggis, poetry and whiskey.

The format for these celebrations begins with a general welcome, which is followed by the Selkirk Grace:

"Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit."

I don't think either of Neil's guests play the bagpipes, so the haggis will enter our dining room with little fanfare. A haggis is a savory pudding made of oats, offal, onion and various spices. Burns' famous "Address to a Haggis" is read and the haggis is sliced open with a grand flourish when a particular line is reached ("An' cut you up wi' ready slicht"). The haggis is usually served with tatties and neeps (potatoes and turnips), which will be the case at Chez Morrice tonight. (However, I am having a Domino's pizza delivered.)

An overview of Burns' life and work can be given at this point — most people read their favorite of "Rabby's" poems, and much toasting and whiskey-drinking ensues. It can be difficult to read and understand his poetry (as illustrated with the verse above) but nearly everyone is familiar with his most famous work, "Auld Lang Syne." This song, which most of us associate with New Year's Eve (or Hogmanay), is sung at the conclusion of the supper.

Cranachan (a boozy concoction made with oats, whipped cream, honey, whiskey and raspberries) or Tipsy Laird (whiskey trifle) can be served for dessert. Since I prefer to bake cookies, they're getting shortbread here tonight.
Shortbread will be served.

I followed Delia Smith's recipe for Scottish Butter Shortbread because I've never made it before (I find it dry). Delia is Britain's answer to Martha Stewart, so I used her version. She uses semolina, which gives the cookie a crunchier texture (and I always have semolina because I use it to make pizza dough). Anyway, most recipes rely on three main ingredients — flour, sugar and butter — so it's practically foolproof.

"I can remember my father making it," recalled my Scottish neighbor, Bob. "I mean, you never saw him in the kitchen. But he made shortbread. And now I know why — it's dead easy!"

I used a round baking tin; the shortbread is cut into wedges, like a pizza. Mine didn't have fluted edges, though, which produces shortbread "petticoat tails." Another option is a square pan; the shortbread is then cut into fingers. Or cut shortbread rounds from the dough with a biscuit cutter. Regardless of your choice, here's the one place where it could go wrong: don't work the dough too much or your shortbread could be tough.

The whole house was bathing in the golden smell of butter, even after the oven was off and the shortbread was cooling. I don't know if it was because it was Delia's recipe or because it was homemade, but my shortbread was delicious! Seriously, it tasted so buttery and crumbly. And so not dry.

Now let's "hae" the Glenfiddich!

Delia Smith's Scottish Butter Shortbread 

6 oz butter, room temperature
3 oz caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
3 oz fine semolina (or flour, if you don't have semolina on hand)
6 oz flour

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

The dough should be crumbly until you pull it
together with your hands.

Beat the butter in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Beat in the sugar, followed by the semolina and flour, just until it's blended. Turn mixture onto a lightly floured surface and pull together with your hands, careful not to overwork the dough.

Prick it. 

Lightly press the dough evenly into a fluted flan tin (or 8-inch round or square cake-tin). To make sure it's even, you can give it a final roll with a small glass tumbler. Prick the shorbread all over with a fork, or it will rise up in the center while it's baking.

Bake for 60-70 minutes on the middle rack of the oven; it should have turned pale gold and feel firm in the center.

Using a sharp knife, mark out the surface into wedges or fingers. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack. When completely cool, cut into wedges and dredge with caster sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.

This post has been shared with Frugal Food Thursdays at Frugal Follies.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post. It was great to read more of the history of Burns Night and your shortbread looks delicious. Thank you for sharing this post with The Gallery of Favorites.