For my 40th birthday (a long time ago) I decided to celebrate by taking my husband and 2 children on their first trip to Europe. Inspired by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (an historic fiction/romance which begins in the United Kingdom), I chose Scotland as our destination. It is a beautiful, magical country.
As my children learned how to be travelers, I learned about prepping for and planning family focused trips. It is truly amazing to me what kinds of interests can be sparked in children with just a little preparation. Before our trip, we read fairy tales of the Highlands, discussed Nessie at length, and even read a children’s version of Macbeth. With a ten year old and five year old in tow, our itinerary spent less time in museums and more time enjoying trains and boats, exploring castles and gardens, and searching for prehistoric beasties.
I had some unrealistic expectations on that trip. My children did not mysteriously turn into little adults. They continued to act like the children they were and had the same number of melt downs and grumpy moments as they would have had at home. On a longer travel day, when they had been cooped up too long together in the back seat of the rental car, they squabbled just like they would have at home. I am not sure why I was surprised. However, what I also didn’t expect was the long lasting, positive impact those 3 short weeks in Scotland would have on our family, my daughter in particular.
It was on this trip, at the Oban Highland Games, that my daughter first saw and fell in love with competitive Highland dance. She watched the groups of girls (and a few boys) dance the same three dances over and over as they competed for the highest individual performance score. The music of the pipers flowed into her soul and she desperately wanted to know how to dance to its beat.
When we got back to St. Louis, a series of amazing coincidences led us to Sandra Brown, a woman who we believe (with a certain amount of bias) is the world best Scottish dance teacher. My daughter has now been involved in Scottish Highland dance and a part of Sandra’s Dance Caledonia for 14 years! Though we have no Scots in our background, from time to time we consider ourselves to be honorary Scots.
As honorary Scots my daughter performs in Pride of Scotland tartan. As honorary Scots we are aware that Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland and we attend the annual Burns Dinner held in his honor here in St. Louis (and all over the world). As honorary Scots we are supposed to savor haggis, but don’t. We do, however, savor shortbread, Scotland’s gift to the world of cookies.
I wish that I had thought of posting a shortbread recipe this winter. Shortbread is a wonderful care package cookie. Kept in an airtight container at room temperature it will stay fresh for 3-6 weeks. The flavor improves over time. However, the key here is room temperature. This is NOT a hot weather cookie. These are butter cookies and can easily go rancid if you ship these during the summer. If it is already too hot at your care package destination, enjoy shortbread at home now and bake them for mailing when its cool again.
This recipe is originally from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. It is not a traditional shortbread because of the added chocolate and espresso, but it is delicious. The dough can be cut with a knife into squares/fingers/wedges or can be cut with cookie cutters. I cut one batch into squares and used a 1 ½” cookie cutter on another batch.
Espresso Chocolate Shortbread
Adapted minimally from Smitten Kitchen who adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes about 42 cookies
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar plus extra for dusting
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 toffee chocolate bar or plain semisweet chocolate bar (3.5-4 ounces), finely chopped (something like Ghiradelli’s Toffee Interlude or Green&Black’s Toffee Milk Chocolate)
(3/4 cup of mini chocolate chips can be used instead of the chopped chocolate bar)
- In a very small bowl, dissolve the espresso powder in the boiling water.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the confectioner’s sugar and butter for 3 minutes at medium speed.
- Add the vanilla and espresso, beating until incorporated.
- Add the flour and mix at low speed until just combined.
- Fold in the chopped chocolate.
- Transfer the dough into a gallon sized zip lock bag but do not close the bag.
- Roll the dough into rectangle the width of the bag and ¼” thick (approximately 9”x 11”x ¼”). While rolling, make sure no creases are formed in the dough from wrinkles in the plastic.
- Zip the bag closed removing as much air as possible. Refrigerate for 2 hours- 2 days.
When ready to bake:
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cut open the zip lock bag and place the dough rectangle on a cutting board.
- Using a sharp knife or cookie cutter, cut the dough into desired shapes and transfer to the baking sheet.
- Use a fork to poke holes in each cookie.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes.
- Dust with confectioner’s sugar while the cookies are still hot.
- Cool completely on a wire rack.
- Store at room temperature in an airtight container for at least 3 weeks.
Packing tips: Wrap small piles of cookies in plastic wrap then place in an air tight container or zip lock bag for mailing.