Shortbread is a buttery cookie usually associated with Christmas and New Year celebrations. There are many variations in the way the ingredients are measured, prepared and cooked, but the same three ingredients are always used -- butter, sugar and flour.
A basic recipe consists of
1/2 lb butter (I use unsalted butter and a pinch of salt, to taste)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
Butter: make sure the butter has been left at room temperature until it is soft.
Sugar: This can be superfine granulated sugar, or a mixture of sugar, light brown sugar and/or icing sugar. I find 2/3 white and 1/2 light brown sifted well together is satisfactory.
Flour: All-purpose white flour. Part of this can be rice flour.
Method: Add sifted sugar a little at a time to the softened butter until both are thoroughly combined -- no gritty feel under the spoon. A wooden spoon is best. Add flour a bit at a time until all is absorbed. This should give a soft but workable dough. Gather into two lumps and knead each on a lightly floured board until smooth and no cracks appear. Roll or pat into shape and cut with small cutter, keeping dough about 1/4 or 1/3 inch thick. Gather up cuttings and reroll into shapes. If dough gets too soft, refrigerate for a while. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet.
Bake: 300 to 325 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Some ovens take longer, but don't let the shortbreads brown. They should be quite light and they deepen in color after cooking.
Put on rack until cool. Store in tightly covered container. May be kept for several weeks.
A small piece of cherry can be pressed into center of cookie before baking, and it is customary to prick shortbread with a fork -- not deep enough to break the cookie, but deep enough to leave an impression.
I also find it worthwhile to refrigerate the shaped cookies on the cookie sheet, before baking. I put them in the frig before I set the oven. Also -- the cookie dough can be rolled and wrapped in wax paper and kept in the refrigerator until ready to bake, then sliced into circles etc.
After you have read this, just remember: Mix butter, sugar and flour, knead, shape and cook for a short while in a slow oven.