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Baking’s Three-Chord Song: Shortbread Cookies


It’s the last day of the year, and with that, my final installment in the Italian Dessert Challenge. Your suggestions have been outstanding—I’ve stretched my baking brain to new limits and it’s only getting better from here.

I think it’s fitting to end the year on shortbread cookies (thanks for the suggestion, Amanda!). Because in the hustle and bustle of overextended schedules, ambitious goals, and nagging obligations that will undoubtedly take us over in the year ahead, we can’t forget to appreciate the simple things. They’re what will keep us grounded and sane when everything around us won’t let up: a favorite song, a bowl of soup, a long chat with a friend, an incredible cookie…let’s never underestimate the power in these things.

So I’m offering you baking’s version of the simple life: shortbread. It doesn’t get more basic than butter, sugar, and flour. They’re the foundation for nearly every baked good, but just as amazing on their own. I’ve always thought of shortbread as the kitchen’s brilliant three-chord song. Such simple beginnings, but when played together in just the right way, the results are genius. Think of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Matt Pond PA’s “New Hampshire,” Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” I didn’t test to see whether these songs are exactly three chords, but you get the point…. The same few chords play again and again—like music’s own butter, sugar, and flour—to create untouchable brilliance.
Perhaps this is a corny stretch, but I can’t help it. Sometimes my mutual obsessions with baking and music bring on ridiculous thoughts. 

With that, let’s end the year and begin a new one with a little stroke of perfection.

Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Sara Foster’s Fresh Every Day

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer on high speed for about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time, until light and fluffy.

In separate bowl, stir the flour, salt, and lemon zest until combined. Add to the creamed butter and sugar and stir with a wooden spoon or the pabble attachment of an electric mixer until the dough comes together.

Gather the dough together and pat it into a flat disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and place the disk in the refrigerator to chill for at least 20 minutes or overnight.

Lightly flour a rolling pin and work surface and place the dough in the center. Roll the dough to ¼ inch thick and cut into cookies using a knife or cookie cutter.


Carefully transfer the cut dough to a baking sheet. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the shortbreads are pale golden around the edges. Allow them to cool completely on the cookie sheet.

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