I have been making shortbread as a Christmas gift for many years now. I have no recollection of where this particular recipe came from, but I have always enjoyed the fact it is not too sweet and has a lovely firm crunch to the biscuit. On many occasions I have tried to make it in fancy round shapes, but this is not a recipe that will bend to that whim. It is for tray-baking alone.
One of the things I love about it is the gritty quality the rice flour gives it. Which raises the question: Where did the ancient Scots get rice flour from?
Down a rabbit hole I have gone into Scottish cuisine to find the answer. It seems that some historians feel English food and Scottish food developed along different trajectories. The reason for this was that British food was influenced by the Roman conquest, but since the Romans didn’t get as far north as Scotland, there was no such influence there.
The concept of shortbread originated when leftover bread dough was baked with a little sweetening into hard rusks. This in turn morphed into butter being added to doughs to make them even more of a treat.
Scottish food’s next great influencer was the French court in the time of Mary, Queen of Scots and the Auld Alliance where the influence of French pastry chefs held a little sway. However, the ratio of one part butter to two cups of flour meant it was a treat for very special occasions, such as Christmas and weddings, or only for very special people. It always makes me realise how much our diets have changed when you consider you would have to eat one-sixth of the total biscuits in this recipe to consume the same amount of sugar that’s in a single can of cola.
At no point have I been able to determine the use or the source of rice flour. Perhaps it was once semolina that was used, which at some point has been substituted by rice flour. Regardless of why or how, this is a simple yet delicious biscuit that makes a great gift at Christmas. With the added sincerity of it being a traditional Christmas treat.