To most beginner bakers, short is a term that is widely used in many baking recipes. You might come across shortbread, short dough, shortening, shortcake, and more of such terms, which are quite confusing to most people.
I will particularly address ‘what is short dough’ in this article. If your bakery enthusiasm led you here, you are about to be exposed to the secret behind the ‘short’ in baking.
So, What Actually Is Short Dough?
If you are not familiar with the term ‘shortening’ in baking, it refers to solid fat at room temperature. We mostly know it as hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is sold for baking.
Furthermore, any vegetable or animal fat is technically shortening, while having its own flavor qualities, texture, and way of using.
So, a short dough is something that contains a high quantity of fat, whether it’s in butter or oil or margarine or lard form. Shortening is measured similarly to the quantity of flour.
Furthermore, the quantity or proportion of fat also matters here. The greater the fat proportion, the shorter the dough is. Some short doughs contain a significant amount of sugar, which isn’t essential to address a dough as ‘short’.
Short Dough Qualities
Unlike regular doughs, a short dough is non-elastic and brittle to some extent. You can easily break apart by pulling it. Due to its ingredients, the dough comes together when it’s mixed. Likewise the sand, it leaves a sticky and crumbly texture on the surface.
Baked items using short doughs are typically crumbly. Also, in cookies, biscuits, sweet tarts, and other items, you will notice a distinct tenderness, which is a signature gesture from such a dough.
If you make the same food item using short dough and non-short or regular hard dough, the short dough item will be much tastier and delicious than the others. So, when it comes to taste, flavor, and richness, this particular dough knocks out its competitors.
A tender and sweet short dough will have the same chewy and tough nature that you find in bread that is made of flour, leaven, salt, and water.
Long and Short Dough
The key difference between these two types of dough is the fat ingredient. Have you ever wondered, how come this one ingredient makes such a significant difference and gives perfect tender consistency? Gluten development is behind all the scenes.
Flour consists of gliadin and glutenin proteins. When you hydrate the flour, a third protein named gluten joins the team here. Gluten is the thing that holds the dough together. When the gluten is mixed, it forms long threads and matrices that create the bonding.
Gluten furthermore catches the carbon dioxide that is produced by fermenting bread dough to give it a nice and well-shaped rise when you bake it in an oven.
The primary components, gliadin, ensures the elasticity, and glutenin ensures the strength in a dough. When you bite a bread and enjoy the chewy texture, know that gluten is the reason for it.
But, when it comes to making more tender baked products, you need to shorten the gluten strands. Doing this, you can prevent the dough from rising and developing.
As a short dough recipe requires you to mix fat with flour, fat covers, and lubricates flour particles. So, the primary two components, gliadin, and glutenin, cannot join each other when you add any form of liquid to the mix.
However, a very small amount of gluten can still form, but compared to less fat doughs, here the gluten has much shorter strands. So, it cannot form large gluten matrices.
As strands are quite less here, the short dough doesn’t deliver much strength and extensibility to baked products. So, when you apply the pressure, the baked short dough items crack, crumble, and snap into pieces. Biscuits and cookies are ideal examples of that.
Short Dough Types
The rule of thumb is that short dough contains a much higher amount of fat compared to flour. There are lots of different short doughs that are used for certain purposes.
Primarily, it can be categorized into two types; short pastry doughs or shortcrust pastry and cookie or biscuit doughs. Baked items made of both the types come out having tenderness and toughness in the crust as well as the main surface.
Short doughs don’t contain any yeast; these are specially made. On the other hand, bun and brioche doughs are made of butter and other common ingredients that are used to make cookies and pastries.
Oftentimes, beginner bakers get confused with short and laminated doughs. You will notice layers of butter in a non-short or traditional dough. These layers trap the evaporated steam, which causes the rise or puff up. This is something that doesn’t happen with short doughs.
Where to Use a Short Dough?
You have eaten a lot of pastry and bakery items that you didn’t know that is made of short doughs. Take shortcrust pastry; for an example, it uses some additional ingredients to get you the savory or sweet taste.
Classic pie crusts are seen in basic shortcrust pastry. Whereas, pâté à foncer aka Tart Pie Dough is something that is made of eggs and also some sugar.
Sweet and sugary pastries have many names, sweetcrust pastry, sweet shortcrust pastry, pâté sucrée, pâté sablé, etc. are the most common ones. These items contain a higher amount of sugar that also helps the crusts to have perfect tenderness and make great vessels for sweet tarts.
Biscuits and cookies that you eat for snacks are also made of short doughs. Most cookies that have high butter content are made of short doughs as well.
Another great example would be the classic Scottish treat made of flour, sugar, and butter with a ratio of 3:2:1. It has both the short dough characteristic as well as a crumbly melted texture flavor.
Shortcake and shortbread also come under the root of bakery items that are made of short dough.
Working with Short Dough
You can customize the short dough by tweaking some of the ingredients to suit your baking needs.
If moisture-resistant crusts are something you need for your fruit pies or quiches, be sure to give the fat a good rub using flour.
For the flakier crust, leave larger particles of the fat in the dough; the crust will blister when you bake it.
Adding wet ingredients or any liquid into the flour rubbed fat is another way to maximize the lubrication of flour. It will also hinder gluten formation.
You can also cream the sugar with fat in the sweet short dough before adding the flour. Minimizing the amount of mix will help to limit gluten development.
Using too much fat will make the dough quite sticky when it’s warm. So, consider refrigerating it after you mix to make less mess. Whenever you bake using short doughs, try to keep it as cool as possible.
Now that you know what is short dough when you eat any bakery or pastry item, you will be able to tell whether the item is made or short dough or a regular one.
Considering health, bakery products that are made of short dough shouldn’t be eaten in high quantities. But, it’s worth giving a try when you want to have some delicious cookies or biscuits once in a while.