There’s no way I can eat a whole cake or batch of biscuits all by myself on a regular basis, so I take most of what I bake into the lab. Not only are my labmates very enthusiastic taste-testers, but baked goods have the added advantage of being a great way of integrating into the lab. However, one of the technicians doesn’t eat eggs. Now something like nuts aren’t usually too difficult to omit from a recipe, but eggs? Eggs are tough. (Side note: I find the concept of fake egg rather freaky so I refuse to use egg substitutes).
Thankfully, she doesn’t mind when somebody brings in baked goods with egg in them and she can’t eat any, which is lucky because I regularly bake with eggs since the vast majority of my recipes call for them. I have to admit that even if she doesn’t mind, I still feel a little guilty, so I’ve been on the lookout for egg-free recipes – I don’t intend to bake egg-free all the time, but at least from time to time so that everybody is included. I’m well aware that there are plenty of vegan recipes out there, but my initial foray into vegan baking came out rather dry and not particularly presentable, so I’ve yet to be convinced (although I’m open to recipe recommendations). Plus I’d rather not deprive myself of dairy products without reason. So anyway, I discovered over the weekend that shortbread is egg-free. Oooooo…
Now, I’ve never tried making shortbread before, and I’d always been under the impression that it was difficult and technical to make. Rather than start with basic shortbread, it was thus clearly totally logical to complicate things a little by adding toasted walnuts. I’m not sure why I thought shortbread was such a challenge, and I’m also not sure why one of the recipes I looked at said that shortbread was “a test of cook’s skill” – it really didn’t seem that difficult to me. If anybody could enlighten me, that would be lovely. Of course I’d love to think that I’m clearly just a brilliantly accomplished baker, but that’s really not the case. Perhaps it’s my Scottish side shining through. Or beginner’s luck.
Adding walnuts turned out to be a rather fabulous idea – toasted walnut and nutmeg are such wonderfully wintery flavours, and the shortbread itself was the perfect amount of buttery and utterly scrumptious. They were super popular in the lab, and everybody was able to enjoy them whilst we watched the gymnastics highlights from the Olympics over our coffee break. Whilst watching those girls do flips and (mostly) managing to land on the balancing beam and bounding and somersaulting across the carpet, we concluded that those gymnasts probably don’t eat much deliciously buttery shortbread. We also concluded that it was their loss.
Makes about 20 biscuits
Adapted from The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake
Toasting the walnuts really elevates their flavour, so try not to skip that step, even if a little pushed for time – I promise it’s worth it! If you want to make shortbread shapes I’d try rolling the shortbread dough out to a thickness of 1cm (before the refrigeration step) and using cookie cutters in the shape(s) that you want, then refrigerating the individual biscuits on their trays. I haven’t tried that method however, so I’m not sure how well it would work. These will keep for up to a week in an airtight container (though I highly doubt they’d last that long).
50g walnut pieces or halves
260g all-purpose flour
¾ tsp ground nutmeg
Good pinch of salt
200g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1. Toast the walnuts in a small frying pan over a low heat until fragrant and lightly toasted. Remove from the heat, roughly chop if necessary and set aside to cool.
2. Sift the flour, cornflour, ground nutmeg and salt into a medium-sized bowl and stir together.
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric whisk or wooden spoon. Slowly add the sugar and cream together until light and fluffy.
4. Add the flour mixture and the walnuts to the butter and sugar and mix together using your hands until well combined (this may take a little while, but it will come together although it will still be a bit of a crumbly dough). Shape the dough into a log of about 20cm in length and even thickness and wrap in cling film (since dough will still be crumbly, you may need to gently push it together to compact it enough to make a log). Refrigerate for 20-30 mins until firm.
5. Butter two baking trays. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan 150°C.
6. Remove the cling film from the dough log and slice into about 20 rounds of 1cm thickness. Place on the baking trays, with about 1.5cm space between each biscuit. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until firm but still pale. Sprinkle the biscuits with caster sugar and allow to sit on the baking trays for 2-3 mins before transferring to a wire rack to cool fully before serving.