Monday, July 19, 2010

Shortbread Showdown!

You know you've lost your mind when you buy a copy of "Field Guide to Cookies."  I kid you not - I bought this book. I felt that I needed some expert guidance on what good shortbread was.  And I got some!  The Guide says that the color of shortbread should be "barely golden" which backs up my assessments of some of these as being overdone.  It goes on to say that texture is paramount and describes it as tender and crumbly.  I take that to mean "not rock hard and crumbly" as some of the lesser brands have been.  So I feel vindicated in my shortbread assessments.

I've started the reviews with plain shortbread - we are going to cover shortbread with fruit fillings, with chocolate, and with various flavorings.  But I think plain is a great place to start.  A baker might be able to trick me by covering bad shortbread with chocolate.  This is naked shortbread  - no place to hide.

Let's start with Maclean's (a Scottish company that I ran across at the Fancy Food show.  The sales reps were wearing kilts which I thought was pretty cool.  If only they had bagpipes!!  at least there was no haggis):

This is delicious - tender, crumbly, cooked to perfection.  Wow!  It literally melts in your mouth.  The only problem is finding it!  The box I found had been beaten to hell in T.J. "Ghetto" Maxx.  I practically had to crawl under some shelving to get it.  Hardly a fine way to acquire shortbread.

This is Willa's traditionally southern shortbread bites:

It's made in North Carolina - not the shortbread capital of the world.  But as I mentioned in the last shortbread post, we have some Scottish heritage here in NC.  Willa's is also very good - although less tender than Maclean's, a tad drier.

Archer Farms surprised me by being very good:

While it is overcooked a bit (see the edges) the texture is still very good.  I think it's better than Willa's, but not nearly as perfect as Maclean's.  It has a different flavor than the other shortbreads - I'm not sure why - the ingredients are similar.

Campbell's (a Scottish company) has a solid shortbread:

But, it's a bit overdone - the bottom especially is overcooked.  Hmmmm.....these are about as good as Willa's.  I actually like Archer Farms better.

This is from the Shortbread House of Edinburgh:

This one has a fabulous flavor, but as you can see in the picture, a little overdone and a little too crumbly, not tender enough.  Just a tad too dry.  But the flavor - YUM! 

And then there's Walkers - how fabulous are these tins?

This is what's inside:

Here are Walkers Shortbread Highlanders:

Walkers always seem to be cooked just right.  And the flavor is terrific.  And you can FIND them!!!  In an amazing variety.

These are the cookie equivalent of crack cocaine:

I don't know why, but I can't stop eating these!  They are thin, but have that amazing shortbread tenderness.  They are almost chewy they have so much butter.  Wow!!  (Steve, I think this makes you my dealer.)

I will admit I am biased because I adore the people at Walkers.  But I have to say that Maclean's might actually be my favorite.  (Steve, don't hate me!!)  Walker's is a close second.  In third place, I'd have to go for (shocking!) Archer Farms!! 

Don't get me wrong - all of these are great, but if I had to rank them, that's they way I'd call it. 

Good luck actually finding Maclean's - it's not the best if you can't get your hands on it!  Walkers is just about everywhere from Food Lion to World Market.  Keep your eyes peeled for those shortbread thins - wow!  And we have many more flavors to review, so you'll hear more from Walkers and others.

Can you hear the bagpipes?


Steve Dawson said...

Denise, I forgive you!


Denise Ryan said...

Whew!!!! You know my heart belongs to Walkers!!! : )


Eric said...

Denise, Thanks for including our Willa's Shortbread Bites in your review! Just a couple of comments regarding Willa's Shortbread. To do a true comparison, please try our Classic Shortbread cookies. The bites are similar but their smaller size does tend to give them a different texture plus, we add a touch of rice flour in our Classics. Also, we've been in middle Tennessee for 6 years now since Willa Allen decided to hang up her apron in Hendersonville, NC. All our cookies are 100% natural and still handcrafted in our family run bakery using Willa's original recipes.

Eric Rion, Owner
Willa's Shortbread

Denise Ryan said...

Hi Eric! It'a pretty cool to hear from the owner!! I'll keep my eyes peeled for those - I don't see Willa's very often, but I'll try to find them. Ah - I think my box had Willa's story on it, so I was giving you all credit for being in NC! : ) Thanks for the comment!!

Anonymous said...

I agree, the best shortbread I've EVER had is Maclean's Traditional Luxury Shortbread. It's to die for.

I also found mine at TJ Maxx, unfortunately. It was the only box. And I have not found it available for shipping online yet, but I'm still looking. I'll let you know!

Denise Ryan said...

Anonymous - thanks for the back up! Sometimes I find it at World Market too - keep looking! Marshall's sometimes has it too.

Thanks for the comment!!