On a recent trip to Scotland, I ate my body weight in shortbread. The Scots are known as the originators of shortbread and I was seeking out any new bits of knowledge that could perfect the Miette version. The perfection of this cookie lies not in a secret ingredient, but in quality ingredients.
This lemon shortbread recipe takes the tart, fresh flavor of lemons and contrasts it beautifully with the richness of butter. In the walnut variation, the nuts add a wonderful earthy taste that we accentuate with sea salt.
It is important to stop mixing just at the point when the dough clumps together. This prevents the cookies from becoming tough. Freezing the dough makes the cookies more crumbly and helps them maintain their shape while baking. Don’t under bake these cookies. They should be golden brown.
Using a mortar and pestle or clean spice grinder, grind together the sugar and zest.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, butter, salt, and baking soda and beat on low speed until it resembles cornmeal. Add the lemon sugar, cream, and vanilla and beat until just clumped together.
If the dough is soft, wrap it tightly in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Otherwise, roll out the dough ½-inch thick on a lightly floured surface into a 6-by-4-inch rectangle. Using a ruler, square the edges as much as possible. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 1-inch squares. Place them 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the cookies straight from the freezer until they are golden brown, about 10–12 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Store in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks.