For today's bake, I thought I would give myself a break and not choose a bread or a complicated cake . . . no, no . . . just do a simple cookie/biscuit, I thought. Do the Buttery Shortbread Biscuits, I encouraged myself. How difficult can making a recipe with five ingredients be? YOU'VE GOT THIS, MISSY CARR. YOU DO YOU.
What follows is a tale of headache and FRUSTRATION and ANNOYANCE and then pure, unadulterated joy, for there is no joy greater than that of eating a warm-from-the-oven, melt-in-your-mouth cookie. Biscuit. Cookie/biscuit. Bookie.
First, the recipe.
There are, as previously mentioned, only five ingredients in this shortbread recipe: caster sugar (I used regular sugar), unsalted butter (I used salted butter because I never keep unsalted butter in the house), all-purpose flour, corn flour, and a pinch of salt. Because I used salted butter, I didn't add the pinch of salt. I don't like the grittiness of corn flour (white corn meal is what I used), but this baking challenge isn't about my personal preferences or making myself comfortable. I'm specifically interested in making myself uncomfortable to see how well I'm able to overcome the sensation and finish the individual tasks. So, even though I consider corn flour to be a bane of my existence as a baked goods consumer, I'm going to use it when required. So suck it, corn flour.
Despite the presence of corn meal in this experience, I was moderately excited to use my brand-new food scale and, thus, avoid trying to convert everything with only my brain power to assist me. It's super cool and appears to be quite accurate.
I followed the directions, which were simple, and realized as all of the ingredients were being mixed together that it was going to end up being a very crumbly dough. And that's when I got concerned.
This extremely crumbly dough was supposed to be "tipped out" onto a lightly floured surface and kneaded until it formed a soft dough. I tipped it out, as directed, and attempted to knead it.
This was as dough-like as I could get for the first several minutes. But I desperately thought to myself, before the cursing started, "Just keep kneading it! I bet the warmth of your hands while kneading encourages the butter to melt a bit and allows the dough to form. JUST KEEP KNEADING, MISSY." (You might notice that I'm starting to sound a little crazy here.)
I ended up with this.
That's not too bad, right? Except that, every time I so much as raised an eyebrow at it (or gave it the finger--whatever), a big chunk would fall off and crumble. And I was supposed to ROLL OUT this dough to cut it into biscuits. It was at this point that I stood there, staring at this bizarre lump of dough, and thought, "What the f*&k?"
Well, there was nothing to do but to go forward, regardless of how ridiculous it seemed because it was fairly obvious that nothing edible was going to result from this horrifying mistake. So I balled it up as best I could and stuck it between two layers of parchment paper to roll it out to a thickness of 1 cm, as directed. (Breathtaking picture to follow.)
But, after I rolled it out, fixed some cracks and rolled it out a bit more, something truly miraculous happened: it started to look like something that would turn into something. Whaaaaaat? I used my pizza cutter to cut out simple squares because I was too annoyed to go looking for cookie cutters, and then I was able to easily lift the squares onto the baking sheet. That's when I thought, "Holy crap, this is actually going to work."
There were a few wonky biscuits, to be sure, but they were at least ready to go into the oven. I put two pans in at the same time (325 degrees), and one pan finished quite a bit more quickly than the other. The biscuits on that pan ended up being darker. Finally, though, they were all out of the oven, and, by god, they looked like biscuits.
You can see here the difference in the two pans.
I generally prefer a color like the one on the left, but I have a feeling that, for a true biscuit, the color on the right is probably more desirable. The biscuits with the darker bottoms had the snap that Paul and Mary are always looking for in biscuits on the show. I actually preferred the lighter biscuits because they were a bit softer when warm and, thus, more like regular American cookies, but they should probably be a smidge darker--not much, though. They were already baked through completely.
The first biscuit that snapped.
The whole lot of them.
If biscuits were people, my biscuits would be hobos, and Paul's and Mary's biscuits would be Members of Parliament, but mine at least tasted lovely. They melt in the mouth instantly but don't fall apart, otherwise, which is a damn miracle. I love my shortbread hobos. I love them very much.