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History of Scottish Shortbread

Scottish shortbread evolved from medieval biscuit bread. Eventually butter was substituted for yeast, and shortbread was born. Since butter was such an important ingredient, the word "shortbread" derived from shortening. Shortbread may have been made as early as the 12th Century; however its invention is often attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th Century. Petticoat Tails were a traditional form of shortbread said to be enjoyed by the queen. The round shortbread was flavored with caraway seeds, baked and cut into triangular wedges. The triangles resemble the shape of fabric pieces used to make petticoats during the rein of Queen Elizabeth I. Shortbread was also made in individual round biscuits called shortbread rounds and in a rectangular slab, which was cut into thin pieces known as fingers. All of these forms of shortbread are still made today.

In the beginning shortbread was expensive and reserved as a luxury for special occasions like Christmas, Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve), and weddings. Through the years it developed into an everyday favorite and is now enjoyed all around the world. Traditional shortbread consisted of three main ingredients: flour, sugar and butter.

·  In Shetland a decorated shortbread was traditionally broken over a bride’s head before she entered her new home.

·  Shortbread was classified as a bread by bakers to avoid paying the tax placed on biscuits.

·  The Scottish custom of eating shortbread on New Year’s Eve derives from an ancient pagan ritual of eating Yule Cakes.

·  January 6th of each year is National Shortbread Day.

Recipe:

Ingredients:
6oz Plain flour
4oz Soft butter
2oz caster (granulated) sugar
1 oz cornflour (cornstarch)

Method:
Mix the butter and sugar together (preferably with a wooden spoon) until it is pale and creamy. Sieve both the flour and the cornflour into the bowl and mix well. Put a small amount of flour on your working surface and place the dough on this. Shake a little flour on top and roll out about quarter inch thick. Prick with a fork and cut into rounds with a cutter or, if you want one large shortbread round, pinch the edges with thumb and finger all round.

Use a palette knife to lift the shortbread onto an oiled baking tray and bake for 25 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 170C. If the biscuits are ready, they will be pale brown and crisp; if not, return to the oven for 5 or 10 minutes. Shake a small amount of caster/granulated sugar on the top of the shortbread immediately after they have been removed from the oven. Use a palette knife to move them to a cooling rack and store in an airtight tin once they are cold. 

History of Christmas Cake

Christmas cake is an English tradition that began as plum porridge. People ate the porridge on Christmas Eve, using it to line their stomachs after a day of fasting. Soon dried fruit, spices and honey were added to the porridge mixture, and eventually it turned into Christmas pudding. In the 16th century, oatmeal was removed from the original recipe, and butter, wheat flour and eggs were added. These ingredients helped hold the mixture together and in what resulted in a boiled plum cake. Richer families that had ovens began making fruit cakes with marzipan, an almond sugar paste, for Easter. For Christmas, they made a similar cake using seasonal dried fruit and spices. The spices represented the exotic eastern spices brought by the Wise Men. This cake became known as "Christmas cake." All Christmas cakes are made in advance. Many make them in November, keeping the cake upside down in an airtight container. A small amount of brandy, sherry or whisky is poured into holes in the cake every week until Christmas. This process is called “feeding” the cake.

History of Mince pies

Mincemeat developed as a way of preserving meat without salting or smoking some 500 years ago in England, where mince pies are still considered an essential accompaniment to holiday dinners just like the traditional plum pudding. This pie is a remnant of a medieval tradition of spiced meat dishes, usually minced mutton, that have survived because of its association with Christmas. This pies have also been known as Christmas Pies. Mince pie as part of the Christmas table had long been an English custom. Today, we are accustomed to eating mince pie as a dessert, but actually "minced" pie and its follow-up "mincemeat pie" began as a main course dish with more meat than fruit (a mixture of meat, dried fruits, and spices).  As fruits and spices became more plentiful in the 17th century, the spiciness of the pies increased accordingly. 11th Century - The Christmas pie came about at the time when the Crusaders were returning from the Holy Land. They brought home a variety of oriental spices. It was important to add three spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) for the three gifts given to the Christ child by the Magi. In honor of the birth of the Savior, the mince pie was originally made in an oblong casings (coffin or cradle shaped), with a place for the Christ Child to be placed on top. The baby was removed by the children and the manger (pie) was eaten in celebration. These pies were not very large, and it was thought lucky to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas (ending with Epiphany, the 6th of January). Over the years, the pies grew smaller, the shape of the pie was gradually changed from oblong to round, and the meat content was gradually reduced until the pies were simply filled with a mixture of suet, spices and dried fruit, previously steeped in brandy. This filling was put into little pastry cases that were covered with pastry lids and then baked in an oven. Essentially, this is today’s English mince pie.

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