By Erika Mathieu
When it comes to Christmas baking, everyone has their seasonal favourites. For my family, the holidays mean entertaining friends and family and digging out the recipes that have proved to be classic over the years. Normally, I wouldn’t dare share any of my grandmother’s recipes.
I have this weird sense of duty in protecting them, but after talking it over with her, she has agreed to share her best whipped shortbread. This recipe is so easy and so good.
The cookies practically melt in your mouth and because of the short baking time, you can bake off as many dozen as you need to in just an afternoon. Let me preface this by saying, I am not half the baker that my grandmother is, at least in terms of the soul that goes into her baking.
I have learned to be less of a technical baker over the years, finding success in observing the look or feel of a dough or batter, but my grandma knows exactly when to add an extra dash of something. As a result, her baking always tastes like it is uniquely hers. As a third generation home-baker, I find I have a soft spot for the classics. This shortbread recipe is a whipped variety.
I would typically use butter in all my baking recipes, but my grandmother was very firm in her resolve that only regular soft Becel margarine would suffice. She also stipulates it must come in the tub and not the blocks.
This recipe was likely popularized due to the scarcity of butter in the 1930s and 1940s. The economic challenges many people faced during the depression and war-time era meant many ingredients were in short supply, or very expensive. When it comes to flavour, you will never hear me take a pro-margarine stance, except for this recipe.
The soft Becel allows you to whip the dough into an airy dough that is easy to spoon or pipe out which allows you to whip out two to three dozen cookies in little to no time.
There are also tons of ways to spruce this recipe up if you are so inclined, which I will include at toward the end of this piece, but this melt in your mouth and budget-friendly recipe is so quick and easy, you can forgive it for not having the most robust flavour and richness, plus it makes me feel like I am sharing in part of my grandma’s memories of the holidays.
This recipe calls for ¼ cup of corn starch, 1 ½ cups of flour, ½ cup of icing sugar, and 1 cup of soft Becel margarine. That’s it. Sift dry ingredients together over margarine. Mix with hand mixer on low until incorporated, and mix on high, whipping until the mixture is light and airy and resembles whipped cream. At this point, I transfer the mixture into a piping bag with a large star tip and pipe in rosettes, but you can also just drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets.
Bake on 325°F for eight to 10 minutes. Keep in mind that everyone’s oven is different so watch carefully.
I usually bake these until they are just starting to turn golden or a few minutes before the browning process begins.
I am all for experimentation in recipes, but with a recipe so delicate and airy, you must be mindful of alterations and ensure you aren’t weighing the dough down. One unique way to elevate these cookies is to include a little bit of chai tea. For this recipe, I have added two tablespoons of ground chai tea, and incorporated it into the dough.
Use a mortar and pestle or blitz the tea using a spice grinder to get a fine, but not quite powdery, result. You can also opt to drizzle chocolate on the cookies and finish with a sprinkle of flaky salt. I would caution against dipping the cookies, as they are very fragile.
You can also freeze these cookies in an air-tight container for up to one month. I hope you all find a way to lean into your own family’s baking traditions or try something new this holiday season!