How They Made It: Recreating Mrs. Graham’s Shortbread
Welcome back to our occasional series, “How They Made It,” where we explore the food and drink of Outlander. This time, we’ll dive into the world of Mrs. Graham’s shortbread. Slainté!
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Finding a friendly face for Claire
When Claire returned to present day Scotland after Jamie sent her through the stones just before the battle of Culloden, Mrs. Graham was there to help soothe her broken heart with tea and biscuits. And even though Walkers Shortbread had been around since 1898, we know that Mrs. Graham was a fine baker so we can assume that her shortbread would be of the highest caliber. Luckily, shortbread only needs three ingredients: sugar, butter, and flour…food rationing in 1948 was still in effect, so getting those few ingredients would be more difficult but not impossible. I can imagine Mrs. Graham in the kitchen baking for the Rev. Wakefield and his guests (and let’s not forget the cherubic wee Roger!).
Scottish Shortbread History
Actually, shortbread dates back much farther than the iconic Walkers’ red plaid boxes. It’s said that back in the 16th century, Mary Queen of Scots favored shortbread in her court. And just how did it come to be called “shortbread” anyway? On my own blog, Scotch and Scones, I wrote all about the history of shortbread…it’s a quick (and highly informative) read. Have a quick peek, then hurry back. It’s okay…I’ll wait…
What would make shortbread different between bakers
Back with me? Great! While you were away, I got to thinking how Mrs. Graham’s shortbread would have differed from mine. Since flour and sugar are fairly standard regionally, the major difference would be with the butter — the different environments and feed of the dairy cows would necessarily produce different butter. The closest approximation I have available to the butter in 1948 Scotland would be Kerrygold Irish Butter (if you’re a U.S. reader, it’s available in most major U.S. grocery stores). I decided to compare shortbread baked with Kerrygold against shortbread made with a standard U.S. butter (in this case, butter from Trader Joe’s, a national U.S. chain with a reputation for good quality products).
I’ve seen shortbread recipes include other flavorings (e.g. vanilla, lemon zest, and lavender) or substitute rice flour in for some of the all-purpose flour. Actually, shortbread can be customized a variety of ways: browning the butter or using brown sugar instead of white…I’ve even made savory shortbread using Parmesan cheese instead of sugar! However, today I’m sticking to the pure, basic recipe. So, I give you the Great Butter Bake-Off Battle! (Try saying that 3 times fast!)
The first thing you’ll notice between the Kerrygold vs. Trader Joe’s butter is the color. Kerrygold is more golden yellow to Trader Joe’s pale ecru. That will translate later into a deeper colored cookie.
Tasting the different shortbread versions
And the taste? Well, in a blind taste test, my team of battle-hardened veterans (ok…me, my husband, and our daughter) all preferred the shortbread made with Kerrygold butter. Some of the adjectives for the Kerrygold version were “rich,” “creamy,” “crunchy,” and “buttery.” The Trader Joe’s shortbread adjectives were “softer” and “blander.” Hands down, we all preferred the shortbread made with Kerrygold butter.
I think my American shortbread would pale in comparison to Mrs. Graham’s lush, rich shortbread (see what I did there? I crack myself up). That’s not to say that my version isn’t good…compared to store-bought versions, mine is divine (and divinely free of additives and preservatives!). Walker’s shortbread is expensive here, so I make my own and freeze them for future snacking. I’m sure Mrs. Graham would approve!
What’s your favorite shortbread recipe?
Homemade Shortbread Cookies
- 9- × 9-inch baking pan
- stand mixer with paddle attachment or hand mixer
- pie pan roller
- ½ cup granulated sugar, (3½ oz, 100g)
- 1 cup butter, salted or unsalted (8 oz, 227g)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, (9 oz, 255g)
- ½ tsp salt, if using unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9- x 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on 2 sides. Set aside.
- In a large bowl of a stand mixer (or just a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the sugar and butter until smooth.
- Add the flour (and salt, if needed), and mix until a smooth dough forms.
- Pat the dough into the prepared baking pan. Use a piece of plastic wrap to press out the dough until it's even...you can even use a small pie roller to help. Pierce the dough with a fork, then chill for 20-30 minutes, or until the dough is firm.
- Bake the shortbread for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven to a wire rack.
- Cut the shortbread into 1- x 2-inch rectangles while it's still warm in the pan. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
- Carefully remove the shortbread from the pan using the parchment paper overhang to the wire rack. Cool completely & enjoy!
Discovering Outlander after Season 1 first aired, Tammy quickly went down the rabbit-hole on social media and podcasts and found a world of like-minded fans who not only tolerated her obsession, but encouraged the madness! She combined her Outlander-inspired interest for scotch whisky with her continuing passion for baking and storytelling in her blog, Scotch & Scones…Explorations in a glass and in the oven. Joining the staff of Outlander Cast as the resident baker has brought Tammy full circle, from a podcast fan to a contributing writer. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest at @scotch_scones, and find her on Facebook at @scotchandsconesblog.