Spelt and Whisky 'Shortbread'

Why 'shortbread'? Well, the truth is, this one was a bit of a failure. But everyone has kitchen disasters from time to time right? The plan was to make some shortbread for Burns Night tonight, to have with whisky. It all seemed fine until I realised I had forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge to soften. So I did that, but by this point, I was worried daylight would run out on me and I would be left with ugly pictures. Instead of doing it the proper shortbread way, I reasoned that shortbread was kind of like pastry so I would make it that way. Famous last words, huh?

I used a rather lovely flower-shaped pastry cutter I got for Christmas and I thought it was going well. Well... I checked the shortbreads in the oven halfway through baking and they had gone lazy and spread out. A flower shape is pretty when it's done right, but when the dough isn't holding its shape it just makes it look blobby. Anyway, I let them finish and cool and then tasted one. Well, guess what? I hadn't made very good shortbread, but I had inadvertently made bits of the flakiest, most delicious pastries I have ever had. Kind of like the lovechild of shortcrust and rough puff pastry. I guess the cliché about clouds and silver linings is true after all.

I never really ventured out of the plain ol' wheat flour territory before this, but I recently bought a bag of this white spelt flour. And then was promptly stumped as to what to do with it. I called my dad (which is my solution to almost every problem) because he makes bread - and has an entire small fridge full of various flours to prove it. Apparently spelt is an ancient ancestor of the modern wheat grain, but has a stronger taste. A bit of Googling also told me that spelt has less gluten than normal flour, so I thought it would be perfect for pastry and shortbread-y type things, as it is gluten in normal flour that makes things chewy (like bread and pasta), which is undesirable in pastry. Spelt is, however, quite different to wheat in terms of water content and something something something, so this recipe isn't immediately alterable for normal flour.

I'm going to try making a tart with this recipe for pastry soon, maybe fill it with some rhubarb or apples or something. However, they do make really delicious biscuits, even if they are incredible fragile. I'm going to give you two recipes - the way I did it (for pastry) and the 'proper' shortbread way, in case you want to give it a try.

Flaky Spelt Pastry

220g unsalted butter, cold and diced into small cubes
220g white Spelt flour
50g caster sugar
A pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of water or whisky

Place the butter, sugar, salt and flour in a bowl together. Using your fingertips or an awesome pastry blender like I used, rub and mix the ingredients together until they form lumps the size of small peas.

Pour 1 tablesoon of water or whisky onto the dough, and lightly knead to bring together. If it still doesn't come together, pour the remaining tablespoon on as well. Press into a ball, wrap with clingfilm and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.
Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C.

On a floured surface, roll the dough out to a 1cm thickness with a floured rolling pin. Place into a tart tin with a removable bottom and cut off any bits hanging off the edges. Scrunch up a sheet of baking paper and then smooth it out again. Place on top of the tart shell, fill with baking beans or rice and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the baking beans and the greaseproof paper and bake uncovered for another 5 minutes, just so it crisps up. Fill with your desired filling!

Spelt Shortbread

220g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
220g white spelt flour
60g caster sugar plus 20g extra for dusting
A pinch of salt

In an electric mixer, beat the softened butter with the caster sugar until well combined and pale. Tip in the flour and mix until combined. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap with clingfilm and rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 2-3cm thickness with a floured rolling pin. Cut into your desired shape and size and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. You can lightly poke holes in the top of the shortbreads with a fork for a traditional look, but make sure they don't go too deep into the dough. Dust the tops with the remaining caster sugar.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.