Best shortbread biscuits

Now, who doesn’t like a recipe that is not only quick and easy to make but turns out to be the best tasting recipe out there?  If you are a shortbread person then you must try these Arabic shortbread biscuits, also known as Ghraybe! The recipe is straight from  Suzanne Husseini’s cookbook  Modern Flavours of Arabia.

I’ve had this cookbook for some time now and have never made anything from it. The past week, I tried three recipes from it and they were all great and delicious.  I don’t know how you choose your cookbooks but if I’m buying an unknown author I usually go by the pictures and the ingredients listed.  This book however was on my wish list after seeing recipes of Suzanne in the BBC Good Food Middle East magazine. There was something about her bubbly personality and her smile that just made me trust her. I’ve bought books based on that criterium and was pretty happy with my choice.  I hate it when I buy a book and nothing I try from it turns out the way it’s supposed to be.  A problem I’ve never had with Barefoot Contessa’s recipes! I drive everyone crazy when I’m in a bookshop: I spend hours looking at the books, flipping through each page  just to put it down and then run back to pick it up!

So back to these delicious shortbread biscuits. Imagine the smell and taste of delicious nutty butter and as you take a bite you are left with light, airy crumbs that softly melt in your mouth leaving you with nutty, sweet and buttery magic. The French have a wonderful word for shortbread which is sablé, literally meaning sandy.  That’s exactly what this biscuit is: golden, soft smooth sand in your mouth. Actually when you pick one up you are left with a bit of biscuit dust on your fingers, just to remind you how delicate and delicious they are.

You have to start by making clarified butter (or ghee) which is really easy. Many Arabic desserts and biscuits use clarified butter and that is not only because it keeps longer but it gives a unique flavour. I suppose you could use store-bought ghee but it’s so easy to make, I’d recommend making your own. I clarifed and used the butter the same day but you could make it a day or two before if you don’t have much time. It can keep for a month at room temperature and longer in the fridge.

I haven’t made major changes to the original recipe, just  used almonds instead of pine nuts.  You can actually use pictacchio nuts too, I only had almonds at home. I do however, intend to play around with it very soon: adding bitter almond essence, lavender or orange blossom essence.  Why not even try it with early grey or matcha powder?  I’ll keep you posted on my experimentations!

Not being a dessert nor a biscuit person, I simply loved every bite I ate and just had to share it! Please try it, you won’t regret it and don’t forget to let me know what you think.

Best Shortbread Biscuits

  • Servings: 36 biscuits (6 dozens in the original recipe)
  • Time: 45-50 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup clarified butter
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • pine nuts, almonds, pistachio to garnish

Directions:

  1. To make the clarified butter:  place 200g of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a gentle boil and start removing the foam that comes to the surface. When the butter is no longer frothy but clear and the milk solids settle on the bottom of the pan, turn the heat off. Allow the clarified butter to cool completely. Pour through a sieve to strain any particles and store in a clean glass jar
  2. In a medium bowl, using an electric beater or a good dose of elbow grease, mix the clarified butter and the sugar for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is pale and creamy. This is a very important step to obtain a smooth  texture on the outside and a delicate crunch on the inside.
  3. Add in the vanilla essence and mix well.
  4. Sift the flour and the salt and gradually add to the beaten mixture. The dough is ready when you can roll a ball in your hand without sticking.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes before shaping the biscuits.
  6. Preheat oven at 170ºC, gas mark 3.
  7. Take teaspoon-sized pieces of dough and gently roll in the palms of your hand to make a ball the size of a large marble.
  8. Place on a parchment-lined baking tray and gently flatten the dough with your palm, press the nut of the your choice in the centre.
  9. Bake 10-12 minutes or until just set, the biscuits will have a beautiful light golden colour. Leave to cool on a tray before sinking your teeth into them!
  10. Why not eat them with a nice cup of freshly brewed mint tea?

Bon appétit!

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