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Baking Shortbread

August 7, 2011

After church today I huddled on the porch with my family and we made shortbread in the rain. I balanced the large silver bowl between my knees and cut the flour with the butter, rhythmically rubbing my hands. My host mom showed me how to bake it on the coal pot and I made a careful diagram. Next weekend we’re doing banana bread and the “lead bread” they sell on the road. She knows how to do gingerbread too. Oh, I’m in trouble!

While we were baking Princess asked if I had any books about cells. I brought her a science book from the shelf outside my room (circa about 1942) and asked if she knew how to find it. She bit her lip and shook her head. I taught her what an index is and we practiced looking things up. “In less than five minutes,” I said, “the index will tell you if a book can help you.” Her eyes sparkled. Knowledge is power.

My mom is giving me a baking pan, some shapes, and a measuring cut to take to site. I am so humbled by their generosity. In two weeks I’ll cry almost like I did leaving Missouri. Almost.


Liberian Market
4 heaping cans of flour ($100LD worth or so)
2 cups sugar, not packed ($40LD worth)
2 cups butter ($100LD)
1 eating spoon baking powder ($20LD)
1 whole nutmeg ($25LD)
1 small can evaporated milk, 170g ($30LD)
2 ½ cups water
½ eating spoon salt

America Estimates
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 tbsp baking powder
1 whole nutmeg
2 ½ to 3 cups milk
½ tbsp salt

Put the flour in a large clean pan. Reserve a little to line the baking pans. Add the butter and sift/cut it between your hands until combined. Grate in the nutmeg and stir in the baking powder. It will help to have two people so one person is continually mixing with their hands while the other person adds things.

Open the milk and combine with the water in a small cup. You can use only milk if doing a smaller batch or you don’t mind spending the money. Stir the salt into the milk.

Butter and flour the baking pans. Add small amounts of milk while stirring with a spoon. Start in one corner or the bowl and make just as much batter as you need to fill one baking pan. Spoon it into the pan and spread evenly, leaving a rough texture on top. You might not need all the milk/water.

Place the small pan inside a larger pot and place on the coal pot with only a small fire underneath. Place a piece of zinc or tin on top of the pot and cover with a big pile of hot coals on top. (You may need to fan them.)

After awhile check the bottom of the bread. Take it out carefully, turn the pan and check the bottom. It should be golden too. Add more coals underneath if necessary and return to heat. (If the bottom is sticking the flour is bad. It shouldn’t stick if you flour/butter the pan well.) It will be golden and crusty on top. Estimated baking time is 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove from heat and cool. Put second pan in if necessary.

Want more Liberian recipes?  Check out these other posts:

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Catherine permalink
    August 22, 2011 1:18 pm

    It looks delicious!

  2. Joye permalink
    November 5, 2012 11:50 am

    Love it! Thanks for the instructions as I’ve forgotten how to do it since I left Liberia years ago after the war!

  3. Makula permalink
    March 26, 2013 6:07 am

    Wow am shock to find this recipe.Funny how my nextdoor neighbor used to made Shortbread, Ricebread and I buy from her every morning but never ask how she did make it or walk over to see her .Been in the US for 5 year and won’t stop craving it …Thank alot ..

  4. Patience permalink
    January 20, 2014 5:19 pm

    I made the shortbread 3 days ago and I must say it worked! But I had problem combing the milk and water. After combing the milk and water together and after mixing them in the dough/ flour I had alot of milk left over. How can I measure this without wasting so much milk? Can I bake the shortbread with water only? I live in Sweden and we use ovn here. On which Fahrenheit should I bake the shortbread?

    Thank you

    • January 20, 2014 8:03 pm

      Great questions, Patience. I’d have to try this recipe again now that I’m at Cuttington and I have a real oven. I’d say 375 degree Fahrenheit should be good and let it go until it is golden brown on top and baked through. 30-45 minutes? When my ma taught me this recipe I’m sure we used milk and water to save money. I would just gradually add milk until you get the right consistency. I’ll try it again and let you know what I find!


  5. Yassah permalink
    April 16, 2015 2:58 pm

    Hi thanks a lot for the recipe, but when ever I do mines it does not come out crusty on top. Please let me know if I’m doing something wrong cuz I really like it that way.

    • lifemagnanimous permalink*
      May 4, 2015 8:50 pm

      Hi Yassah. Doing it on the coal pot is a great way to get the top crusty because you can control the heat from the top. When you can do that brushing the top with some egg or milk before baking should help.

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