As an American, I never could understand why Europeans referred to cookies as biscuits. I imagined cookies as being golden brown, moist, and chocolaty and biscuits as being buttery and flaky. I discovered a European cookie cook book while slacking off at work… I mean “on break”… and delved deep into the contents of the recipes to find the truths of European cookies. The first thing I noticed while flipping was that the cookies didn’t use any kind of leavening and that the primary techniques used where cutting butter into flour and kneading, techniques integral for biscuit making. That’s when I had the epiphany. “European cookies” are literally sweetened, unleavened, biscuits. The cause of confusion is no more! However, the technical name for these cookies is shortbread cookies.
- cut the butter into small pieces with a knife (grating the butter after freezing it a few minutes is also very effective)
- then to dump the butter into the flour
- toss the butter with the flour
- then use your fingertips to pinch and rub the butter into the flour
This technique is used to coat each of the flour granules with butter. In essence, the butter acts as Captain America’s shield (I hate Captain America, but I’ll ignore my hatred for this metaphor). This shield blocks sticky and elastic proteins (gluten) from penetrating the biscuit’s defenses. The result is a biscuit that is tender, crumbly and nearly immune to overhandling.
Cutting butter also creates the flakiness inherent in the best biscuits. Chunks of butter remain unincorporated into the flour. These chunks melt into the gluten structure of the biscuit when baked causing layers to form. This effect isn’t integral for shortbread cookies, but good Southern biscuits experience this flakiness.
To maximize tenderness and flakiness in Southern biscuits, it is best to aim to incorporate 50% of the butter into the flour and 50% of the butter present in pea sized chunks. European biscuit cookies should incorporate the butter as much as possible into the flour because flakiness is not desirable.
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 ½ stick of butter (room temp)
2/3 cup of confectioners’ sugar
1 egg yolk
¼ cup yogurt
1 tsp of vanilla extract
Optional-Grated orange zest
Filling– Jam or Chocolate spread
Decoration– Confectioner sugar
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cut butter into the flour. Add the rest of the cookie ingredients, bring together quickly. Cover the dough and refrigerate about an hour.
- Roll dough thinly and cut into circles of desired diameter. Using a smaller, round cutter, cut the center out of half the circles (or use a knife to cut squares). Remove scraps, reroll and cut more cookies. Then place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.
- Bake 10-15 minutes or until turning lightly brown around the edges. The cookie should be white or a light golden brown, but not dark.
- When the cookies have cooled, sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on cookies with holes and spread a light layer of jam on the whole cookies. Press them together lightly, confectioners’ sugar and jam sides up. When set, store tightly covered.
Makes between 16 and 24 cookies, depending on how thinly dough is rolled out.