Baking up Ted Lasso Biscuit Love - No. 51
A shortbread recipe that’s even better than what you see on TV
When baking for others is an act of love.
Last week three words kept popping up in my newsfeed - Ted Lasso biscuits.
I had heard of the Emmy-winning comedy series, but I hadn’t watched it yet. I knew enough about the plot of the show to be curious as to why a Kansas City football coach named Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) would be coaching soccer and baking biscuits in England.
So we binged on Ted Lasso season one. And as I write this, we’ve just finished season two. The show is bright, funny, and will bring a tear to your eye. It has characters so mired in real life flaws they remind us of ourselves.
And I’m not going to spoil things, but I will tell you that the show’s more about kindness than biscuits and it brought back some sweet memories of living in a small Northamptonshire town in a country where, like Ted, I felt different.
About those biscuits…and how baking helped me feel at home
I felt pretty ashamed for even thinking the aforementioned biscuits were the buttermilk sort you butter while hot. No, these Ted Lasso biscuits are what we call Scottish shortbread, and they belong to the larger cookie family the Brits know fondly as “biscuits.” They go with tea.
Instead of buying something to endear his new boss Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), Ted secretly makes her homemade “biscuits” and packs them in pink boxes each morning. He calls the handing over of the box and the exchanging of conversation, “biscuits with the boss.”
Which seems odd because Ted isn’t the baking sort of guy, his kitchen is modest, but he is a man of secrets. (I’m waiting to find out that his grandma’s people go back to Glasgow and she passed on her shortbread recipe years back. Or at least that’s where my mind goes when I watch Ted Lasso… are the biscuits a clue of something not yet revealed?)
I didn’t bake shortbread while I was in England. To me, that would have been like bringing coals to Newcastle, so to speak. And, besides, I would have been under intense scrutiny because of all the skilled local cooks I met. Instead, they asked me to bake what they couldn’t - American brownies.
So I can relate to Ted’s feeling out of sync, of wanting to create something to please others. From my white tennis shoes (trainers) that I wore walking into town to my unmistakable southern accent to my inability to navigate the British kitchen with its gas marks, Celsius, and metric, I screamed Yank.
How to make “biscuits” better than Ted’s
On TV, Rebecca loves Ted’s biscuits so much she asks her assistant Higgins to track down the bakery where he’s obviously buying them. But when Higgins cannot find the bakery, we learn Ted is baking the shortbread himself and yes, spoiler, considers it an act of endearment.
Apple TV + shared a recipe for Ted’s biscuits, which I thought about baking but passed on once I read through the recipe calling for just flour, sugar, butter, and salt. I knew that shortbread needs a little flour other than wheat, preferably cornstarch (corn flour in Britain), to soften it and give it that creamy-sandy interior.
I can’t help but think if Ted had known this secret then Hannah Waddingham wouldn’t have told a group of TV critics that the biscuits on camera tasted like a “dried-out sponge that’s been left in your bathroom.”
If Ted had just followed my recipe no one, including footballer Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) would have passed on the biscuits on air because everyone would have known Ted’s biscuits were crumbly, buttery, just like real shortbread should be in real life.
After all, I had consulted the cookbooks of England’s beloved Delia Smith, Scotland’s Claire Macdonald, retired Great British Bake Off host Mary Berry, and the popular website thenglishkitchen.co, created by Canada’s Marie Rayner just to make sure the recipe I was about to bake was authentic and good. And just before I hit send on this newsletter, I ran my recipe past our longtime British friend Julie Buchanan who lives in Higham-Ferrers and bakes Scottish shortbread in her very own Aga oven.
I didn’t want to be that kind of American food writer who thinks she knows best about recipes that aren’t in her wheelhouse. I wanted to be humble and open-minded like Ted Lasso, but maybe not so clueless.
Have you watched Ted Lasso? Ever baked shortbread?
This Thursday for Subscribers:
Another favorite recipe from England. Marian’s Fish and Potato Pie, or how to simply turn frozen fish and potatoes into cheesy, creamy pub fare that everyone will love on the cool nights ahead. I know Ted sure would…Not a subscriber? Here’s what subscribers get in addition to this Tuesday free content.
A New Take on Cake will be on Splendid Table!
I just taped Splendid Table with Francis Lam, and the show will air the weekend of Nov. 5. I’ll have to admit I was pretty excited about talking with Francis about simple cakes and why I started baking with cake mixes. Just so you know, you record in the smallest, quietest room of your house via Zoom with wired headphones. Then you remove one of the headphones and place your phone on Airplane mode (so no calls come in) next to one ear. Then push the voice recorder red button. Understandably, I was focused on the technical and I didn’t think about the fact that I looked like a wreck! Thank goodness for radio!
Better Than Ted Lasso Biscuits (Shortbread)
The Apple TV + recipe goes something like this…flour, butter, powdered sugar, and salt. Instead, I use a little cornstarch and pulse granulated sugar in the food processor to mimic what’s known as castor sugar across the Pond and infinitely better than powdered sugar in shortbread. Just pulse the sugar with the steel blade until the sugar is fine. And sprinkle more sugar on top - don’t need to pulse it - once the shortbread comes out of the oven so it looks all sparkly! For extra crispy shortbread, chill it in the pan 10 minutes before baking. Shortbread should be pale in color, so make sure not to over bake it or bake it at too high a temp.
Makes 12 shortbread fingers
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, (about 207 grams. I used King Arthur unbleached organic)
1/4 cup cornstarch (28 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks, 167 grams) unsalted butter, straight from the fridge
1 to 2 teaspoons more sugar to sprinkle on top
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Place the sugar in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until finely ground, about 10 to 15 seconds. Remove the sugar from the processor and set aside.
Place the flour, cornstarch, and salt in the processor or a large bowl and pulse or whisk to combine. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces and distribute over the flour mixture, then pulse in the processor or cut the butter in with a pastry blender until crumbly. Add the sugar, and continue to pulse or stir together until it just comes together in crumbly pieces, not one mass.
Press the dough into an 8-inch square pan, and smooth the top with a small spatula. Place the pan in the fridge for 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the fridge, and with a small sharp knife, cut the shortbread into four quadrants and then cut each quadrant into three fingers so you have 12 fingers in all. You cut nearly all the way through. Prick the top with a fork to make holes. Place the pan in the oven.
Bake until the shortbread just takes on some color, but do not let it brown, about 32 to 36 minutes. With a small spatula or sharp knife, cut through the markings you made before baking. (Sometimes they are hard to see!) Let cool in the pan for 1 hour, then carefully remove the pieces to a rack to completely cool, then pack in boxes or tins.
Have a good week!