Birthdays, when I was a child, always involved elaborately iced cakes that took my mother days of messing about with with royal icing and more than a few expletives. There would be brightly coloured little waxed paper bowls of strawberry flavoured jelly and homemade vanilla biscuits, crispy and cracked across the top. The rest of the year there wasn’t a cake or biscuit to be seen, apart from the occasional Fig Roll. Consequently most of my baking was done with my grandmother. It was always exciting to watch as she made light springy butterfly cakes, with sweet vanilla buttercream or rich dark chocolate cake, cut into thin slices and eaten with ice cream.
When I was about eight my uncle and aunt came back from France and moved into their new house. Most of their belongings had been in storage for the best part of nine months. With the boxes unpacked and the brand new 1960s kitchen fitted, my aunt made some shortbread. It was the first time I’d had homemade shortbread and it was a really big deal.
The fan shaped slices sparkled with sugar and were crisp and soapy when I bit into it. The overwhelming taste of soap almost made me spit it out, but politeness made me force it down. Several soapy mouthfuls later, I declined another slice and made an excuse to go home. I wasn’t sure if shortbread just did taste like that, after all I hadn’t had it before.
It wasn’t until much later in the day that the soapy slices were thrown in the bin and my aunt offered to make me some more, explaining that the flour had been in the same box as the washing powder whilst in storage. I wasn’t keen on trying it again and avoided all things shortbread until I went away to school some years later and Thames Mud And Barges became a favourite pudding.
Since then I’ve made a lot of shortbread, chocolate versions, classic versions and my latest- pistachio and cardamom, all soap free. I like my shortbread chunky and chewy in the centre, if you like crisper shortbread, half the recipe and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Pistachio And Cardamom Shortbread
Makes 20 squares
- 120 g Pistachios
- 375 g Plain flour
- 5 Cardamoms
- 150 g Caster suger
- 1 pinch salt
- 300 g Cold unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven 180c, 160c fan, gas mark 4, 350f
Place 90g of the pistachios in a blender and whizz until just chopped fine. Do not over blend or they will become too oily. Place in a large bowl with the ground cardamoms, flour, sugar and salt and stir well to combine.
- Chop the butter into cubes and add to the mixture, rubbing the butter into the mixture with your fingertips until a dough is formed. It will be quite crumbly and will need pressing together. Place in a 23cm/9inch square baking tin and lightly press down. Roughly chop the remainder of the pistachios and scatter over the shortbread and press down firmly ensuring that the mixture is even in the tin. There is no need to grease the tin because of the amount of butter in the mixture.
- Place in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes until just turning golden brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 10 minutes in the tin. Then cut into bars or squares and leave to cool completely.
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