I’ve been wanting to achieve a really good gluten free shortbread biscuit for ages… One that holds its shape, melts in the mouth and tastes crisp yet creamy. I mean… who doesn’t love a moreishly good shortbread? Clearly not just me, because shortbread biscuits have been around for a very long time… dating back to the mid 18th Century.
Sure there are plenty of commercially available gluten free shortbreads now available in the shops and you may wonder why I would want to waste time trying to make my own when I could just pop down the supermarket… The thing is…. whilst it’s really convenient to grab a pack from the shelf without the hassle of weighing, mixing, rolling and baking the ingredients, I actually think that most gluten free shop-bought shortbreads aren’t really that great. Considering how much they cost, I expect better.
Part of the problem is that the commercially available biscuits are heavily weighted towards the use of rice flour…. This leaves them gritty in texture and (this may just be me) clearing my throat for some time afterwards. They are also (in my humble opinion) decidedly too sweet. That makes seeing them on the supermarket shelves frustrating, because without fail, I get ridiculously excited when they appear in their ‘special’ seasonal boxes… magnetically tempting my gaze towards them…. only to remember that if I buy them, I am setting myself up for disappointment.
So I have decided that I will not waste my time or frustration on them anymore… Especially since a traditional shortbread recipe is made with a simple combination of butter, sugar and flour and providing you stick to a few basic rules, can be made with the minimum of skill.
The recipe I have created (and it has been through a number of tweaks and amendments to get it just right) aims to be a little healthier than your average gluten free shortbread. It uses a home-mixed GFA rice-free flour blend that you can find the instructions for here (and which I keep in a topped-up airtight container in my larder), so contains no rice flour whatsoever and replaces white sugar with maple syrup as a more natural sweetener. (If you can’t be bothered to mix your own flour, these shortbreads would work well with Free From Fairy rice free plain flour blend – see side bar for link).
Maple syrup may be more expensive, but is entirely unrefined and apparently, is high in anti-oxidants, zinc, calcium and potassium (as well as being lower in calories than honey). Ok… it’s still sugar, but it has such a divine and unique flavour, that using it makes these shortbreads extra special (healthier or not).
Although I made mine with butter (I grew up thinking that shortbread should have ‘all butter’ on the label), if you are vegan or dairy intolerant, make a simple switch and replace the butter with your favourite alternative soft dairy free spread. It’s better to use vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract too, to ensure the dough maintains a firm consistency.
I did test the biscuit dough without using xanthan gum (as it can add a bit of a ‘slimy’ texture to biscuits), but whilst it held together and baked fine, the shelf life was slightly limited by greater crumbliness. Having said that, if you find that xanthan gum doesn’t sit well with you, just leave it out or replace with a little ground psyllium husk for stability. Once baked though… these biscuits will stay fresh for well over a week, providing they have been kept in an air-tight container.
Like all good shortbread, this cookie dough is sturdy enough to allow for imprints and patterns. I rolled mine using my new toy… a beautifully crafted embossed rolling pin from Pastry Made. It took a few goes to ensure the right pressure for optimum markings, but I am absolutely in love with it.
If you like sugar sprinkled on your shortbread, go ahead… That seems to be the traditional way, although I decided to keep mine as simple as possible.
So how do you make a really good gluten free shortbread? There are a few basic rules that are helpful to get them perfect…
A shortbread is a tightly structured biscuit…. it doesn’t need baking powder or bicarbonate of soda as this will cause it to be too light and will lose any markings you choose to add (whether by rolling pin or press) and will distort the shape. Don’t use self-raising flour.
Equally, when you cream the butter/spread with the sugar/syrup, you are aiming to combine it rather than make it ‘fluffy’. Don’t over-mix…. if it is too light and fluffy, the final shortbread may be too crumbly.
Be patient. The nature of gluten free flours is that they need time to absorb moisture and to settle. When you add the flour to the mix, beat slowly and firmly, pressing it together little by little, so that it has time to blend well and stabilise. When it starts to come together, use a floured or gloved hand to bring together and knead gently until smooth.
Make sure your dough is firm and pliable, but not sticky and be certain to chill it in the fridge before you start rolling it. This will make it easier to work without it getting too warm. When ready to roll, cut into thirds and roll each, one at a time. It is fine to re-knead and re-roll, but make sure that you chill the unbaked biscuits again before cooking.
So there you have it…
I am sharing my free from Maple Shortbread with the following :
Cook Once Eat Twice with Searching for Spice
Maple Shortbread (makes about 25 to 30 biscuits)
pinch fine sea salt
decorate with melted chocolate and nuts if you wish
sprinkle with caster sugar (optional)
- In a large bowl, beat the butter/spread until smooth.
- Add the maple syrup and vanilla paste and beat to combine. Be careful not to over-mix.
- Mix the flour, salt and xanthan gum together and then add to the wet mix. Beat with a firm silicone/wooden spoon (see Rule #3 above) until it comes together into an even dough.
- With floured hands, knead gently to complete the blending process and bring together into a ball. If the mix is too sticky, sprinkle a little more flour onto the dough and knead in until you have a good consistency. If you have used a flour which absorbs more liquid and has made the dough dry/crumbly, add a little more maple syrup.
- Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
- Prepare 2 to 3 baking trays by lining with baking paper.
- When ready to roll, lay a large sheet of baking paper down and sprinkle with flour. Cut about a third of the dough, place it on the floured baking paper, sprinkle the top with a fine layer of flour to prevent sticking and roll to a thickness of about ½ to 1½ cm (as you prefer).
- Carefully cut your shortbread dough into shapes using a cookie cutter and place on the prepared baking trays. Chill for half an hour before baking.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the shortbreads are golden at the edges (they may need a couple of minutes extra for thick shortbread). Rotate the trays half way through to ensure an even bake.
- Once baked, either remove from the oven and allow to cool (they should firm up as they do so) or if you have made thicker shortbreads, you may choose to leave them in the oven (turned off) to cool as the oven cools (this ensures they dry into a really crisp biscuit). If you are sprinkling with sugar for a traditional finish, do so before they cool.
- If you choose to decorate (although they are perfect without decoration), make sure they are completely cool before dipping in melted chocolate and adding sprinkles.
- Store in an airtight container.