This is a very simple and versatile dough that I learned to make while I was at Johnson & Wales. You can use it for cookies, or even for crusts for no-bake pies or cookie bars. Like I said – it's versatile. Why is it called a "short" dough? It has to do with the texture and structure of the final product. A short dough of any kind (think shortbread) is kind of brittle and crumbly. It's not chewy. It has a high proportion of fat and sugar and little in the way of binding ingredients – like egg – to keep it intact once you bit into it. The other thing, with this recipe, is the use of cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. There's a lower protein content in cake flour, so as you work it, it's less likely to develop the gluten strands that give a loaf of bread its structure. So the finished product is light and brittle and melts in your mouth.
In the baking classes I took while I was at J&W, the recipes are called formulas. And that's the thing about baking – it's more of a science than cooking. Much of the time, it's all about proportions. If you can learn the proportions, or ratios, of ingredients in a recipe, you're set for life. Okay, I exaggerate.
But this dough is a perfect example of that. The ratio is 1:2:3, sugar, butter, and cake flour, by weight. There is also a little egg in the recipe – 'scuse me – the formula – but it's not entirely necessary and it's not part of the main ratio. If you're using, say a half pound of sugar, then you only need about 3 ounces of egg…which is about an egg and a half.
Anyway, here's what I did with this one.
I used 1 lb of sugar,
2 lbs of unsalted butter,
3 lbs of cake flour,
and 6 ounces of whole eggs – about 3-4 eggs, depending on the size.
And for some additional flavor, I added the zest of a lemon.
Next time around, for this much dough, I'd probably up that to two lemons.
So here we go…
You want the butter to be room temperature before you begin. If it's not, cut it into pieces and put it in your mixing bowl. With the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it's soft. You'll need to scrape the bowl and paddle down several times during the process, but at least it's better than sitting around staring at the cold butter and trying to will it to warm up.
First, after you've measured out everything, combine the softened butter and your sugar in the mixing bowl until they're light and fluffy.
Now add the eggs, and blend well. Have patience – it's hard to combine fat and water.
Then add the lemon zest and the cake flour…
As you add the flour, use the lowest setting on your mixer, otherwise you'll have flour everywhere. Run the mixer until the flour is just incorporated, then stop and add some more. If you're making a large batch, like I was, you may have to finish working in the flour in a larger bowl…
Just take your time and if you need to, flour your hands and knead the flour into the rest of the dough that way.
When you're done, form it into a ball
– or divide it into smaller balls – then press flat and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate the dough for an hour or so to firm it up. Then, when you're ready to make cookies, get your cookie cutters ready, roll out the dough on a lightly floured board and start cutting.
If your kitchen is on the warm side, put the baking sheets with the cookies on them in your fridge to chill some before baking. Otherwise the cookies will basically melt and spread out on the pan. If they're really cold when you put them in the oven, they'll hold their shape better.
Oh, yeah, and use a 350 degree (F) oven. Depending on thickness, they'll take around 15-20 minutes to bake. You want them to stay pale – barely golden on the edges is okay, but no more than that.
Next up…gingerbread cookies.