Beautiful Shortbread

Star Shortbread

As a child I was lucky enough to have a Grandparent living with me.  My Scottish Grandfather.  He was beautiful, elegant, funny, and ever so slightly deaf, which he regularly used to his advantage.

When ladies from the Derby and Joan Club telephoned, he would politely let them speak, pull the telephone away from his ear and shout,
‘I’m really sorry, I cannae hear a word you’re saying’,
place the receiver back in it’s cradle, and, smiling to himself, get on with his day.

I am of an age where it was usual for the Sunday papers to be delivered.  My Grandfather’s paper was The Sunday Post, a Scottish paper which kept him up to date with all the goings on over the border.  For us children, The Post held a reverence, not only because it linked us to our heritage, but because there was a cartoon section which had the weekly goings on of ‘The Broons’.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with cartoon strips in newspapers, ‘The Broons’ were about the day to day life of a Scottish family, with generic characteristics.  Not particularly P.C, but beloved.  The Mum, ‘Maw’ did the household stuff, the Dad, ‘Paw’ went out to work, the eldest child (aspirational, self confident) all the way down to the naughty twins (boys, always in trouble) and the baby.  Then finally there was the ‘Grandpaw’ – a slightly grumpy man with a twinkle in his eye and a habit of making merry with the others.  Just like my Grandad.

Each week there was a short story, often with humour, featuring all the different characteristics of the family. Each week, we would wait, with anticipation, for The Sunday Post to be delivered, and immediately pull out the cartoon section to find out what happened this week.

It was a delight, but always over too soon, then, once again, the long wait began for next week’s episode.

And why, you may ask, am I telling you all this?  Well, a few years ago, Big Dave (my dad) bought me a Broons cookery book for Christmas.  Included in all the usual Scottish classics was a recipe for shortbread which transformed my understanding of why the tastes differ so much, why some shortbreads taste absolutely pants whilst others are divine.

I’m hoping by now you may be a little curious to know exactly what is so special. Well, let me tell you, the clue is in the name… short (bread).  Yes, that’s right, it’s the shortness of the biscuit which makes it so delicious, and in the Broons cookery book, all became clear. The secret ingredient to a beautiful shortbread is…


Simple, and yet extraordinarily effective.

And the recipe? Well that, too, is simple. You will need:

500g butter, 175g castor sugar, 550g plain flour and 50g semolina.

Cream the butter and sugar (not too much, it ruins the biscuit structure and you’ll end up with more of a cake like mixture)

Mix the flour and semolina together, add gradually to the butter and sugar mixture.

Roll out*, cut, bake**, cool, enjoy.  With Tea.  Everything biscuity is great with tea.

And here’s a little addendum you may wish to consider.  I have started making these with 300g of rice flour and 300g of plain flour.  Just as simple, just as short, just as delicious.

*Make sure they are no thinner than 3-4mm. There is a difference between crisp shortbread and biscuit shortbread 🙂

**Gas 3, 150C, middle of the oven, 10 minutes or until golden in colour




January is one of those months which seems to have it’s very own characteristics.

For example, you begin to realise that the nights are getting lighter, you start to see snowdrops, crocuses and other wild flowers push their way through the ground, and you also begin to feel the post Christmas pinch on your purse.  Or I do anyway.

Every year I try and be organised, buy throughout the year, make presents, live within our present buying means, but then the season begins and all of a sudden I am compelled to splash out with the enduring ‘well it is Christmas’ rhetoric ringing through my ears like some tuneless Church bells.

This year, although we have become more competent, has still left our resources in strong disagreement with the amount of month left.

However, it is nothing that we haven’t experienced before and so it is at this point that my whole 1940’s make do and mend philosophy comes to the fore as I think creatively of how we can utilise all the bits of food we have.

I do realise that this ‘waste not want not’ ideology is a lifestyle we should, for the goodness of home, community, planet etc, be living as a constant, and as much as I would love to say that we creatively find a use for everything that has come from something, I cannot.

We don’t.

Moreover, I am not going to try and justify why not.  Instead, I’m going to share with you what I did today, which I have been meaning to so for a while, and eventually accomplished.

We had some mince in the fridge that had been made in bulk for Shepherd’s – well actually Cottage – Pie, and not yet used up.

Did you know Shepherd’s Pie is so called because it uses lamb’s meat, and Cottage Pie because it uses beef?  You did? Oh.

So, I bought some ready rolled short crust pastry (why have a dog and bark yourself is my motto on this one), and boiled up a potato, diced into little cubes maybe 1cm if that, and added some peas.  These were then drained and added to my already cooked with carrots and onions, mince.

Coarse black pepper came next.  To be honest, having tasted the pasties, they could have taken a little more black pepper, which I will try and remember for next time.

I then unleashed the pastry from it’s packaging – I know, this knocks off some halo shining points – cut some circles into it, filled the pastry circles with my mixture, damped the edges, pulled them together and folded them over each other, placed on a tray, egg washed them and cooked them, gas mark 5, until they were done.


I have to say, in order to get as many pasties out of my pastry as I could, I rolled it out a bit further which did mean that in a couple of places the pastry exploded a little and the gravy oozed out, but I like to refer to that as giving it the authentic touch.  Also, I did try and overfill the pasties which meant I couldn’t, initially, get the thing to close.  But hey, you live and learn.

Most importantly of all, himself said they tasted good, and his is the king of all things pasty.

I am now feeling ever so slightly smug.  One small step, and all that…


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I love chillies.  I love putting them in food, I love putting them onto food and I even love them in sweet things.  My family, on the other hand, are not so passionate about them.  A consequence of which is that I keep a secret (not really, anyone can find them; artistic licence) stash of whole chillies which, every now and again I allow to dry slightly before chopping up with one of my favourite kitchen tools, the Mezzaluna.

If you have not had the pleasure then let me explain.  In fact, why have a dog and bark yourself, let me allow Wikipedia to explain:

‘A Mezzaluna is a knife consisting of a single or double curved blade with a handle on each end.  It is often used for chopping herbs  or very large single blade versions are sometimes used for pizza or pesto.’

It is, in my view a small piece of perfection.

It also allows me to chop up chillies as small as I like.  Which comes in very handy as it means that, if I’m feeling a little frivolous, I can chop the chillies so they just give a kick at certain points, or I can finely chop them to create an overall heat.  Either way it comes in very handy when we’re eating certain foods as I can just sprinkle my dried, chopped chillies over the top without ever having to endure the ‘ooo, it’s a bit spicy’, or just the crinkled up face, ever again.

Everyone’s happy.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, if you buy fresh chillies, just leave them out at room temperature on a wire rack and they should begin to dry out without going mouldy.  Chop them up before they’re completely dried out, and leave them overnight or until totally dried.  Then pop into a jar with a lid on.  You will find they last quite a while.

My pleasure.

Eating Leftovers

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It is doing the proverbial cats and dogs outside, and therefore I have absolutely no desire to venture out.  Even though summer rain is never cold where I live, sometimes the thought of having to do anything in mild dampness is just not appealing.  I understand that if dressed appropriately one can overcome these obstacles, but I just do not have enough impetus to stroll along that avenue.

Alongside the inclemency of the weather, I am becoming more and more aware of how much we throw away with not a hint of irony.  Food especially.  I think this begins when you are young.  If children are brought up without a respect for food and it’s ceremonies, they will grow up with a similar disregard which is harder to shake off, as it becomes a default setting.  We were brought up believing that food was deeply important, not just for sustenance, but as a social interaction and communication tool.  Similarly, having parents who spent their childhoods with post war rationing, the respect for food had a much greater significance.  Something I try to teach my own children.  Interestingly, the ceremony of the birthday cake still resonates even in households who may have not eaten round a table in years.  But I digress.

Taking everything into consideration it is still difficult to fully appreciate food that is, shall we say, unappetising (I’m being polite).  Therefore, my philosophy should really go hand in hand with something that is at least palatable.

With the aforementioned in mind I am concocting a left overs dinner for this evening. Something which I am not always successful at, but insist on giving a go, even if just to ease my own conscience.  So far I have made potato cakes from left over sweet corn, potato and grated carrot.  They are, as we speak, lounging in the temperamental fridge, probably fighting off the desire to freeze, coated in home made bread crumbs.

However, I have now reached an impasse. What goes with potato cakes?  As I sit and ponder, an occupation I do relish, I have a wonderful compilation of rain songs going on in the background and, quite frankly, a feeling of having all the time in the world.

Think I’ll just pop my nose in the fridge again, it’s sure to inspire me, and if not, I do have a plan B…

Making Bread


Every so often, I make bread.  Now don’t get too giddy just yet, because, I don’t do the whole ‘mother earth’ thing and knead until I’m coming out in a small sweat, no, no, no, I have my outfit to think of.  Although I was given the loveliest of aprons as part of a Christmas present from my big sister a couple of years ago, but I digress.

My favourite recipe is as follows: 14 fl oz of warm water taken from a kettle which has boiled recently, but not too recently.  My rule of thumb is, if you could make a cup of tea with it and it doesn’t taste like dishwater, the water is too hot.  Next I add two tablespoons of butter, although I have used olive oil and it is just as delicious and great for those who are lactose intolerant.  The way I add my flour may seem a little kookie to you, but I tried doing it all in one go and it just didn’t taste the same.  So, I add 10.5oz of strong plain white flour followed by another 10.5oz of the very same strong plain white flour.  And here I must write about the flour.

I always use ‘Bradshaws, ORION high quality strong white flour which is grown, ground and bagged within a mile of where Big Dave lives.  Big Dave is my dad.  Every so often he will call me up and we arrange to rendezvous, him with a bag of flour, me with a bag of buns.  I promise you it is the most loveliest of flours you will ever bake bread with.  And, I believe, the secret ingredient.

On top of all that I put two teaspoons of sugar, two teaspoons of salt and two teaspoons of dried yeast.

It is all then put into the bread maker, popped onto the dough setting, and left to do its thing.  I leave it for another ten minutes or so when the bread maker has finished, before putting onto a floured surface, kneading for moments, cutting into small circles and placing onto floured baking trays.

I then let the little plump circles of potential heaven, (a nod to Nigella there) rise for around fifteen minutes in a warm space with a tea towel over them and finally pop them into a warmed oven, gas mark 6, for around ten minutes.  Remembering, of course, to remove the tea towel.  You may think it would be impossible to forget, but trust me, in my ‘looks to camera’ moments, I almost have.

There is nothing quite like the smell of home cooked bread wafting around the kitchen.  Except for perhaps, the taste of just cooked bread, buttered, with a glorious cup of tea.  And sometimes, just sometimes, I add honey… delicious.

One goddess point for me I think, no?