Nobody makes shortbread like my mother's best friend, a Scottish-born mother and grandmother whose buttery pans of shortbread could be served in the finest Edinburgh hotels.
Even though I have observed countless TV chefs share their secrets for shortbread cookies, mine always bake up flat and dry.
Fortunately for cooks like me, plenty of grocery stores provide satisfying shortbreads from which to choose. Taster's Choice found seven varieties and gave high scores to most of them. Three, in particular, stood out.
Shortbread cookies by Archer Farms from Target ($2.50 for 5.6 ounces) received 88 out of 100 possible points from judges. All four panelists said they loved the cookies and plan to buy them.
The cookies from Archer Farms were dense with a tiny crumb. They were a delicate, pale color with more butter flavor than sugar. They had a "pleasingly round shape with scalloped edges."
Judges described the Archer Farms shortbread as classic.
"These are rich and buttery with a perfect blend of the sweet and slightly floury texture you want in a shortbread cookie," said one.
Walker's shortbread cookies ($3.19 for 5.3 ounces at Sweetbay), the ones in the plaid, tartan-covered box, were just as delicious. Judges gave them 87 points, and all of them said they would buy the Walker's as well.
"These have a nice, gentle taste and a nice design," said one panelist. "They would be great with English Breakfast tea."
Judges called the Walker's cookies "beautiful."
Voortman's shortbread cookies ($2.85 for 14.1 ounces at Publix) were close behind, receiving 70 points from judges. Three said they would buy the brand.
"They are swirled to perfection," said one, who described the cookies as crisp with an almond taste.
Panelists said the flavor of the Voortman shortbread was sweeter and smoother than the other winners'.
The one judge who disliked the brand said it had too much vanilla and not enough butter.
Also sampled were shortbread cookies from: Pepperidge Farm ($2.99 for 5.5 ounces at Albertsons); Keebler ($3 for 16 ounces at Sweetbay); Pamela's ($3.79 for 7.25 ounces at Nature's Finest Foods); and Murray ($2 for 5.5 ounces at Sweetbay).
Panelists were: Nan Jensen, registered dietitian with Pinellas County Cooperative Extension; Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studio@620; Times food critic Laura Reiley; and Jim Yockey, aesthetician at Indulgence Medical Day Spa. All foods were tasted blind.
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Shortbread cookie rankings:
1. Archer Farms