Shortbread for Tea Time

Quite a few of us have friends among our summer communities here in Maine, and as summer whizzes by chances to spend time with them are getting scanter and scanter. So quickly, before they have to return to their year-round homes, invite one over, get out a nice teapot and brew up a couple of cups full and put out a plate of shortbread.

Not too sweet, but rich and crisp, shortbread is the ideal companion for a late afternoon cup of tea. These are quickly and easily made, believe me, and you won’t ruin your supper because a little shortbread goes a long way.

My dear old friend Anna who lived to be 106 (but stopped making shortbread herself at 104) used to make a melt-in-your mouth version. She used rice flour in addition to all-purpose, plus butter and sugar in what is probably a classic, traditional recipe. The version below calls for cornstarch which works very well and is a slightly more common kitchen ingredient.

Unlike chocolate chip cookies, or molasses or ginger cookies, which bring out the kid in us, I think of shortbread as an elegant and very grown-up treat. They simply aren’t as sweet as the average cookie, they don’t spread all over the place; making giant versions of shortbread like you might with oatmeal raisin, simply wouldn’t be The Thing to do. Shortbread is dainty and dignified, downright lady-like, and not for stuffing handfuls in a pocket.

Shortbread for Tea Time
  • ½ cup or 1 stick butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Sugar for sprinkling, optional
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Whisk together flour, cornstarch and salt and add to the butter and sugar mixture, beating until blended. If you use a mixer, use a low speed.
  4. Pack the dough evenly into an eight-inch square pan. Prick all over the surface with a fork and sprinkle lightly with sugar, if you choose.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes or until barely golden.
  6. Cut into little squares and let cool, then remove from pan and store in air-tight tin.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.