This rather dainty looking Shortbread is called Petticoat Tails Shortbread, a large disc of shortbread with a decorated edge and cut into elegant triangles. The texture is rich and buttery with a distinct vanilla flavor. It is not too sweet and has the most delightful pale yellow hue from the cornmeal that is used for making the dough. Let us not forget that it is ideal for sharing and perfect to compliment tea, whether you enjoy black, green or herbal tea.
The Petticoat Tails Shortbread is said to gain its distinctive shape and name by resembling the pieces of fabric used to create the elaborate petticoats of the 12th century – including that of Mary Queen of Scots. Other sources suggest that the name could derive from the French petits cotés, a type of pointed biscuit that was eaten dipped in sweet wine, or the old French term for little cakes, petites gastelles. Personally, I prefer the more romantic idea of the petticoats and the lacy fabric they were made of.
Whatever the real source of the name, they are definitely a perennial favorite and Mary, Queen of Scots was reputed to have been particularly fond of these buttery cookies.
The Petticoat Tails Shortbread is very easy to make. I decided to add a nice dose of pure vanilla flavor to the dough. To give your shortbread that extra bit of wonderful flavor, you can either use the scraped seeds of a vanilla bean or you use that wonderful vanilla bean paste – it works equally well. Other than that, all you need is caster sugar, real good quality butter (use either unsalted or salted butter. If you chose to use salted butter, then you have to skip the salt in the dough) and flour (I like to use white spelt flour for these but you can use regular wheat flour). All that is left to do after making the easy dough is to roll it out, trim it and shape it. The only other important thing to remember is to make sure that once the dough is cut and shaped, it should be chilled for about thirty minutes before you bake it, that way, it will keep its distincive pattern and shape.
Having made this Shortbread more times than I care to remember, I know that the shaped dough can easily be kept in the fridge for a day or two – just make sure to cover it well with cling wrap. Then, it can be baked fresh on the day you plan to serve it – pretty convenient if you ask me.
Vanilla Bean Petticoat Tails Shortbread
- 250 grams really good quality unsalted butter, softened (OR use salted butter, then skip the additonal salt)
- 100 grams caster (superfine baking) sugar
- scraped seeds from a vanilla bean from Madagascar or Hawaii, if possible
(keep the pod for making vanilla sugar*) OR you could use 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste instead
- 250 grams white spelt flour (OR use regular wheat flour), plus a little extra for rolling out the dough
- 100 grams fine corn flour (not corn starch and not polenta), also know as corn meal (finely ground)
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- icing sugar, for dusting
- baking sheet
- baking parchment
- wooden skewer or fork
- lace doily
- small sieve
- Scrape the insides from a vanilla bean into a large mixing bowl.
- In same bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. OR put the butter, sugar and scraped seeds of a vanilla bean in a food processor and whizz until pale and creamy OR rub the butter and sugar by hand, then add the seeds of the vanilla bean.
- Add the flour, corn flour and salt, and beat until mixture is well combined. OR pulse until the mixture clumps together into small pieces.
- Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and bring the dough together as a ball – take care not to overwork the dough.
- Roll the dough to a 25cm circle, about 1cm thick. Trim around a large plate to give a really neat edge.
- Transfer to a large baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
- Use two fingers to crimp all the way around the edge of the dough then, using a fork or wooden skewer, mark dotted lines to portion the shortbread into 8 wedges.
- Cover the prepared dough loosely with cling wrap.
- Place the baking sheet in the fridge and chill for at least thirty minutes and up to a day.
- When you are ready to bake the shortbread, pre-heat your oven to 180° Celsius (160° Celsius for convection ovens).
- Bake the shortbread for about 25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
- Leave to cool completely on the baking sheet or the shortbread will break.
- To decorate, place a lace doily over the shortbread and using a small sieve, dust with a generous layer of icing sugar. Pull the doily away to reveal the beautiful lacy pattern. Keep in a cookie tin or glass container for up to five days (after a few days, the vanilla taste will lessen but I seriously doubt, that it will last for a few days anyways.)
I truly love the smart decoration technique for this classic tea time treat, namely to use a doily to dust on a pretty lace pattern in icing sugar.
This rich home-baked treat is a real crowd-pleaser. It is a not too sweet, melt in the mouth shortbread that goes perfectly with that cup of tea in the afternoon. Or maybe serve it with fresh seasonal fruits and berries or that homemade ice cream.
I always have a soft spot for baked goods that have a bit of a story to them. It is lovely to think that there is tradition and history in what we are eating and sharing with our family and friends.
*Homemade Vanilla Sugar
Since Pure Vanilla Sugar can be a bit difficult to find in stores it might be best to make your own and keep it in a jar. It has an almost indefinite shelf life and the taste is worth the little effort it takes to make your own. You can add it to your baked goods by simply substituting vanilla extract by vanilla sugar.
- caster (superfine baking) sugar - you can use one cup or more
- one vanilla bean (from Madagascar or Hawaii)
Put the sugar in a glass jar and split the length of the vanilla bean and cut into sections (leave the seeds in OR use scraped vanilla beans for baking these lovely Vanilla Bean Petticaot Tails). Place the sections into the sugar. Shake, cover and store in a cool and dark place for about two weeks before using.