One of the best factoids I’ve learned so far in baking is why shortening is called shortening.
In short <groan>…. Gluten proteins need water to develop into long, strong gluten strands, which is what we want in yeasted bread. Fat acts as a kind of raincoat and prevents those gluten proteins from absorbing the water they need to develop into those long, strong strands. Shortening, or any other fat, keeps gluten strands short, which in turn means the resulting baked good is tender and crumbly.
Thus, shortbread, which is full (full!) of butter and no water, results in a tender and crumbly texture.
This shortbread recipe originated with a New Jersey personal chef and professional food writer, Amy Casey, who submitted it to the NYTimes in 2012 when the Times invited readers to submit their favorite cookie recipes. You can get Casey’s recipe here on her website.
I just spent a chunk of the weekend testing multiple batches of it. It’s a keeper recipe.
What makes it so different from other shortbread recipes is that Casey’s recipe uses white rice flour. In my shortbread weekend marathon, I found that brown rice flour or even a mixture work just as well.
And, if you want to get wild and crazy, brown the butter.
In my photo, the cookie on the left was made per the recipe: white rice flour, melted butter, white granulated sugar topping. The cookie on the right was made with brown rice flour, browned butter and raw sugar.
I also made one other change to the recipe process. A minute or two before a pan was technically done, I pulled it out of the oven and sprinkled on the sugar, then returned it to the oven. I found that doing so set the sugar topping better.