The key to perfect Scottish shortbread? Mixing it by hand

Rena Harrop, a 90-year-old Richmond resident, has been making her signature shortbread for 70 years.

Richmond grandmother Rena Harrop is known by friends and fellow church members for making the most exquisite shortbread.

“It’s sweet … It’s very rich. I haven’t met anyone who did not like it,” she told the Richmond News. “I learned to make the old way and it seems to be the right way.”

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The 90-year-old, who grew up in Ayr, Scotland, says she’s been practicing the recipe she learned from her mother for at least 70 years.

Shortbread
On the left are Harrop's finished shortbread cookies, and on the right is the stencil she uses to imprint them with Scottish thistle. Photo: Richmond News/Megan Devlin

Her secret? Beating the ingredients together with her bare hands.

“I’ve given the recipe to many, many people and they always say it’s not the same. But they use their mixers,” she said. “So it’s more like a cookie.”

Shortbread, she says, is a treat that’s usually only eaten at Christmas time in Scotland.  Every year, she makes a batch to sell at the Steveston United Church’s annual Christmas Bazaar. This year, it’s happening on Nov. 17. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Also available at the bazaar are homemade jams, crafts and chow mein.

If you want to try Harrop’s shortbread, you should consider coming down. This might be the last year she’s making it.

“I’m 90, and my hands are getting not so good,” she said. 

But not to worry, she shared the recipe with the News.  All you have to do is decide whether to use your hands or an electric mixer.

Ingredients

1 lb butter (Harrop says to use farm-fresh butter, not salted)

2 cups berry sugar (also known as superfine or castor sugar)

4 cups flour

2 tablespoons rice flour

Directions

  • Mix the sugar and butter together in a bowl.
  • Start incorporating the two flours into the butter mixture. Harrop says using her hands to do this achieves the desirable consistency.
  • Once it’s mixed, put the dough on the counter and knead until it’s pliable and shiny, with no cracks on it
  • Use a rolling pin to roll it flat and cut it into whatever shapes you want.
  • Bake the cookies in the oven at 300F for 30 to 40 minutes. Don’t wait until the cookies turn brown—remove them once the edges start to turn a cream colour.
  • Place cookies on a rack to cool and sprinkle more sugar on top.

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