Shortbread - simply flour, sugar and butter. Possibly the world's most streamlined cookie. That is, until culinarily imaginative types are unleashed with the goal of designing a brand new shortbread recipe. Here was the contest criteria: This perfect shortbread couldn't be too hard to make, but certainly it needs pizzazz, naturally has to have good looks, be creative and...YES, have a buttery taste. Not just because butter is the raison d'etre of shortbread, but also because the sponsors of the contest, open to student chefs was Gay Lea, a 400-strong farmers' cooperative who makes fine butter, both salted and unsalted. We assembled, the four chefs in training, an audience of fellow students, friends and family, the two other judges Dana McCauley, trend meister and cookbook author and Stephanie Pick, owner of The Queen of Tarts where she sells the acme of brown butter shortbread with either coarse salt or sugar gracing the top. (Go for the salt.) The bake-off location was the chic new Market Kitchen in the second floor of the St. Lawrence Market, once part of Toronto's original city hall, now a cooking school and party venue. Lots of afternoon light streaming through the original 20 foot windows, exposed brick and views of the historic and modern city outside. The students had already made a batch of their shortbread for display and tasting, and were working through their recipes so the judges could see them in action and ask questions. There were some interesting (as in unusual) flavours going into the dough the students in whites were mixing up. Bacon and maple syrup, for example,or shortbread cookies sandwiched together with lemon curd from Alejandra Gonzales of Humber College, or lemon and lavender, cut into moons and stars by a second Humber College student Stephanie Lackie, even peanut butter and jam. This was certainly going to be a taste experience. While the judges nibbled, then withdrew to confer in private, the audience was munching to pass judgment for the Peoples' Choice. As did Caesar, we judges came, we tasted and we chose the winner. Robert Maxwell from Liaison College and his Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread. The People chose Andrea Schmidt's Maple Glazed Bacon and Chive Shortbread. There's no denying bacon's appeal. Robert Maxwell's shortbread met all the criteria for a buttery creative shortbread that's straightforward to make. While an egg yolk is not usual in shortbread, Maxwell used one in the dough in order to keep the peanut butter and jelly layer from bleeding into the dough. His shortbread has an interesting twist - he shapes the dough into 2 equal logs and freezes them until time to bake. Then, he shreds half of the dough, pats it into the pan for the base, spreads peanut butter and a jam mixture over that, and shreds the remaining dough over the filling. The bars have an enticing pebbly surface that cuts neatly. Recipe and photos of Robert Maxwell and finished bars arranged at the top of the copy are courtesy of Gay Lea Foods. Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread Bars Shortbread Base and Topping: 1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter, softened 1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar 1 egg yolk (large egg) 1/2 tsp (2 mL) vanilla 2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour 1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt Filling: 1/2 cup (125 mL) smooth peanut butter 1/2 cup (125 mL) icing sugar 2 tbsp (30 mL) unsalted butter, softened 3/4 cup jam (blueberry, strawberry or raspberry ) or grape jelly . Line a 13 -x 9-inch (3.5 L) metal cake pan with parchment paper; set aside. . In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and egg yolk with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. . In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir half at a time into the butter mixture to make a smooth dough. . Divide the dough in half; shape each half into a thick log. Wrap and freeze dough until firm, about 1 to 4 hours. [caption id="attachment_717" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="The dough has to be frozen and firm enough to shred on the large hole-side of a box grater, and to stay frozen/firm enough to spread in the parchment paper-lined pan seen behind the grater and cutting board."][/caption] . Remove half of the dough from the freezer. Shred the dough on the coarse side of a square grater. Arrange the dough in an even layer in the prepared pan. Lightly pat down the dough. . Bake in the centre of a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven until light golden around the edges, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes. . Filling: Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, blend together the peanut butter, icing sugar and butter. Spread evenly over the shortbread base. . . Drop spoonfuls of the jam over the peanut butter and without disturbing the peanut butter layer, spread in an even layer. An offset spatula makes getting the jam into the corners much easier. . Remove the remaining dough from the freezer. Shred the dough and spread evenly over the jam. Bake until the top is lightly golden brown and set, 20 to 25 minutes. . Transfer to rack to cool completely. Cut into bars. Or cut into squares and cut again diagonally into triangles or bars. [caption id="attachment_723" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="Depending on the occasion you can cut squares, triangles or bars. For a neat finish for all pieces, take a sharp long knife and cutting down evenly along the ends and sides of the making of bars, trim off the edges. Enjoy the scraps with a glass of milk before packing the shortbread into an airtight cookie tin. "][/caption] . Makes 24 pieces.