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All-butter shortbread.

Liam Mogan/The Globe and Mail

Good shortbread is the quintessential holiday cookie and makes a buttery blank canvas to add all kinds of flavours and additions.

No matter what you do to the dough, there are just as many ways to shape it: Press it into a square pan, bake and cut into squares or bars (or a round pan for wedges), roll and cut shapes, or roll the dough into balls and flatten with a cookie stamp, meat mallet or the bottom of a glass before baking.

Servings: About two dozen cookies

Ingredients

1 cup butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar (along with any flavourings you like) for 2-3 minutes, until creamy and light. Add the flour, cornstarch and salt and beat on low speed or stir by hand until the dough comes together.

Press into a parchment-lined 9-inch square pan and prick all over the surface with a fork. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and set. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and cut into squares or bars while still warm.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze for longer storage.

How to dress them up:

- Add the grated zest of half a lemon or orange, beating it along with the butter and sugar for maximum flavour dispersal.

- Add 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, fresh or dried lavender or good-quality loose-leaf Earl Grey tea, or the scraped seeds from a vanilla bean along with the butter and sugar.

- Add 1 teaspoon instant espresso or 1 tablespoon freshly ground coffee and 1/2 cup finely chopped chocolate.

- Swap 1/2 cup cocoa for 1/2 cup of the flour for chocolate shortbread.

- Use brown sugar in place of white, and add 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans.

- Put a handful of chocolate chips into a Ziploc bag, seal and set in a bowl of warm water, kneading occasionally until melted. Snip off a corner and drizzle over the shortbread.

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