Traditional Scottish Shortbread Recipe Perfectly crumbly, irresistibly buttery and wonderfully delicious, Scottish Shortbread has been a year-round favorite treat for centuries!
Shortbread is as basic and simple as a cookie (biscuit) can get. But it’s also divinely delicious. And for that reason shortbread has been a favorite throughout the UK for hundreds of years.
The origin of shortbread goes back to somewhere around the 12th century when it was originally made from leftover bread-making dough that was left to dry out and harden into “biscuit bread.” Over time butter replaced the yeast and biscuit bread evolved into shortbread. The term “short” refers to the crumbly texture from the large quantity of butter. Butter was a luxury item and so shortbread was enjoyed only on special occasions and, of course, by the nobles and royals.
The more refined version of shortbread as we know it today is attributed to Scotland, in particular to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century. She was particularly fond of what was known as Petticoat Tails, which was a thin shortbread baked in a large circle and cut into triangular segments. In her day the shortbread was commonly flavored with caraway seeds, which were all the rage in British baking for several centuries. In fact, the earliest published shortbread recipes from the 18th century were more elaborate than the standard shortbread today: They were baked with candied citrus peels and garnished with caraway comfits.
Traditionally Scottish shortbread is baked in either a rectangular or square slab and cut into fingers, as individual round biscuits, or in one large circle and cut into triangles. But you can cut them any shape you like and also use cookie stamps. I have and often use these cookie stamps, these ones, and these ones and love them all – excellent quality.
From our family vacation to Scotland last summer: Eilean Donan Castle
From our family vacation to Scotland last summer: Eilean Donan Castle
I’ve read a few claims that “traditional” Scottish shortbread is made with farola: “Scottish Shortbread is traditionally made with farola, a free-flowing cream coloured and fine granular powder or flour milled from durum wheat.” But the oldest recipes I’ve researched do not, so this “tradition” may be a later/more contemporary one.
We’re making Scottish shortbread the traditional way with just 3 ingredients: Flour, Sugar and Butter. Well, and a tiny pinch of salt, too. Nothing else is needed, no fancy ingredients, no flavor enhancers. The key to a good Scottish shortbread is the quality of the butter. That is what flavors the shortbread and the shortbread is only as good as the butter.
That said, shortbread is also incredible if you want to add things like homemade candied ginger, homemade candied citrus peels, dried cranberries, rosemary, and anything else your imagination inspires you to try.
From our family vacation to Scotland last summer: View of Eilean Donan Castle from our vacation cottage.
Another key is using caster sugar. Not regular granulated sugar. Not powdered sugar. Caster sugar is very fine granulated sugar. Caster sugar is commonly used in British baking and it’s an all-around smarter choice than granulated. The reason is that the sugar crystals in granulated sugar are much larger and take longer to dissolve during baking and may not dissolve completely. Caster sugar dissolves more rapidly leaving a finer texture to the baked good.
Shortbread is very simple, very easy to make and once you’ve made it yourself there will be no need to buy it again!
Before we get started, if you want to take your shortbread to the next several flavor levels, try our traditional Scottish Millionaire’s Shortbread. With layers of shortbread, caramel and chocolate it is the ultimate indulgence!
Traditional Scottish Shortbread Recipe
Let’s get started!
You can either buy caster sugar (it’s overpriced) or make you’re own, which is what I do. Super easy: Just put the sugar in a blender or coffee/spice grinder and pulse until it’s very fine.
Place the caster sugar, flour, salt and butter in a food processor and pulse until it’s combined and looks like coarse breadcrumbs but is soft and pliable and comes together in a dough when you press it together between your fingers. If it’s too dry and crumbly it needs to be pulsed a bit longer.
At this point stir in any add-ins if using (candied ginger, candied citrus peel, herbs, nuts, etc.)
Pour the mixture into a greased 8×8 inch (shortbread roughly 3/4 inch thick) or a 9×9 inch (shortbread about 1/2 inch thick) baking pan. You can also use a round cake pan. Use your fingers and hands to firmly press down the mixture.
Optional: Prick the shortbread with the tines of a fork, creating rows. Some people run a knife between each row of fork tines to make cutting the shortbread easier after it’s baked. That’s optional, too.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the shortbread on the middle rack and bake for 30-35 minutes or until light golden and firm. Let cool. Cut and serve.
Store the shortbread in an airtight container for up to several weeks. Its flavor and texture improves over time.
For more delicious British treats try our:
- Treacle Tart
- Sticky Toffee Pudding
- Spotted Dick
- Eccles Cakes
- Yorkshire Parkin
- Bara Brith (Welsh Tea Bread)
- Barmbrack (Irish Tea Bread)
- Mincemeat Pie
- Lemon Curd
- Victoria Sponge Cake
And learn how to make your own Golden Syrup!
Traditional Scottish Shortbread
- 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 sticks (230 grams) quality unsalted butter , cubed and softened at room temperature (the better the butter, the better the shortbread)
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) caster sugar , or "baker's sugar" in the U.S. (if you can't find any simply pulse granulated sugar in a blender until very fine. Do NOT use powdered sugar)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Optional Add-Ins:
- Homemade Candied Ginger (click link for recipe)
- Homemade Candied Citrus Peel (click link for recipe)
- Other options include nuts, fresh herbs, dried cranberries, etc.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 8x8 or 9x9 inch square baking pan. You can also use a round cake can and cut the shortbread into triangles.
- Place the caster sugar, flour, salt and butter in a food processor and pulse until it's combined and looks like coarse breadcrumbs but is soft and pliable and comes together in a dough when you press it together between your fingers. If it's too dry and crumbly it needs to be pulsed a bit longer. (If using any add-ins, stir them in at this point.)Pour the mixture into the greased baking pan. Use your fingers and hands to firmly press down the mixture. Note: If the mixture is too dry to work with, including pricking with a fork (see below), then it was not pulsed long enough in the food processor. Optional: Prick the shortbread with the tines of a fork, creating rows. Some people also like run a knife between each row of fork tines to make cutting the shortbread easier after it's baked. You can also prick the shortbread with a fork immediately after it is done baking while it is still warm; the holes will be more pronounced this way as they have a tendency to close during baking.
- Place the shortbread on the middle rack and bake for 30-35 minutes or until light golden and firm. Let cool. Cut and serve.Store the shortbread in an airtight container for up to several weeks. Its flavor and texture improves over time.
Beverley Lloyd says
Excellent recipe. Thank you 😊
Kimberly Killebrew says
Thank you so much, Beverley!
I am thrilled to have found this recipe. In the past, I had used recipes calling for confectioners (powdered) sugar and didn’t like the aftertaste. These were PERFECT! I made 4 batches of them for a rehearsal by the cast, musicians, and crew of the musical Brigadoon, which my daughter was performing in at a local dinner theatre. They were a big hit with everyone raving about them! Each batch was a breeze to make and turned out consistently good and perfectly browned in 30 minutes in my oven. I tried lightly scoring them for cutting into fingers and pricking with a fork before baking, but it all disappeared in the heat of the oven. I had the best results by gently and carefully cutting and poking shortly after removing from oven while they were still warm. Then I let them cool completely before removing from the pan. I also lined the pan with parchment paper and didn’t need to grease the pan. I’ve already shared the website/recipe with a friend who says this is her favorite biscuit. Love these!
Kimberly Killebrew says
That’s so wonderful, MaryBeth, I’m thrilled these were a hit! I appreciate the feedback and also for passing my website along to your friend – thank you! :)
While this was very yummy, I did find several issues. A bit too sweet so it takes away from the buttery texture that shortbread should have. 35 minutes left them soft in the middle, I was sad about that.
And the pans mentioned. An 8×8 gives thicker cookies (probably why they were still soft but golden on top) and would absolutely never give you 16-18 servings. 8×8 is entirely too small. Just really nothing “traditional” about it unfortunately
Prissy B. says
I found using a little less sugar instead of a half cup makes them more bread like and so delicious as they really are not supposed to be a sweet cookie. So instead of one half cup of sugar I used a little over a quarter cup and they were amazing.
Wondering how you would make shortbread cookies using a cookie stamp?
It’s so easy. I love it. Thank you.
Shiloh Force says
This is a fantastic recipe! I would remove your metric conversions from the base recipe though, as there is a button to toggle the measurements to metric, and they don’t agree with the conversions you provided. Is confusing.
Honestly I followed the metric but I swapped the caster for icing sugar but it came out fine. Icing sugar and caster sugar have similar weights for measurements so the higher sugar to flour ratio supplemented the dry ingredients it needed. Weight is usually a more reliable recipe method.