Monday, December 14, 2009

Scottish Shortbread

My grandmother was a remarkable woman. Widowed in early midlife, she ran her husband's business, studied art, and traveled the world. After her trip to Scotland, she brought back a recipe for shortbread. It was from her that I learned about these cookies and learned how to make them.

I made shortbread this past Friday because my sons requested it. Now I watch my college son pull out a piece and put it on a plate beside his coffee. He dips it (!) into his coffee and then puts it in his mouth and closes his eyes. He sits still and slowly chews and swallows. He looks over at me, winks, and nods. Yes, this is it.

The ingredients for our Scottish shortbread are just four: flour, butter, sugar, and vanilla. But the results are divine. These cookies will absolutely melt in your mouth. Earlier shortbread recipes used oat flour, which is made from grinding oats. If you need to avoid gluten, you can make the oat flour version of this recipe -- just substitute oat flour for the plain flour and reduce your flour to 1 and 1/4 cups.

Scottish Shortbread


1 and 1/3 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter (for unsalted butter, add 1/2 teaspoon salt)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

(1/8 cup milk for basting)


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, soften the butter. I use the microwave for 20-30 seconds. This makes the butter soft like whipped topping. If the butter is unsalted, then add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the butter and stir it in.

3. Mix the flour and sugar into the butter with a wooden spoon and then finish the blending job with your fingers. The mixture will be crumbly.

4. Drizzle the vanilla over the dough and work it in evenly. No need to knead the dough, however. This is not loaf bread. Blend the dough just long enough to get it mixed evenly. The vanilla should provide just enough moisture to make the dough stick together in a nice round ball. If the dough is too gooey to make a ball, add flour by the tablespoon until it makes a ball. If the dough is too dry to stick together, add water by the teaspoon until it sticks.

5. Divide the dough in half and shape it into two balls.

6. Flatten each ball into a disc 5-6 inches in diameter ( about the length of your hand) onto an ungreased cookie sheet. If your discs are on the same cookie sheet together, place them one inch apart. Using your thumb and forefinger, push the edge of the dough into a scalloped shape. Slice the dough with a sharp knife into 8 wedges. Brush the tops lightly with milk.

7. Bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are lightly brown. Shortbread is very blonde. You should not brown it the way you do most of your cookies.

8. After removing from the oven, slice the wedges again with your sharp knife (along the same lines you cut before baking). Let sit for five minutes. Remove gently with a spatula to a cooling rack.

9. Once cool, the cookies can be stored in any container with a lid. I can store them for a week at room temperature. If you will be storing them for longer, you should put them in the fridge.

Why I use unsalted butter: unsalted butter has a shorter shelf life. That means the unsalted butter you buy in the store is likely to be fresher than the salted varieties. It will make better cookies. Also, the amount of salt in salted butter is higher than is ideal for cookies. Salt masks other flavors when more than a small amount is used. And for an authentic Scottish taste, unsalted butter is the best option.

If you can't find unsalted butter, the salted varieties will work fine. I have used them sometimes and no one seemed to have a problem enjoying the cookies!

Serving Suggestions:

This recipe does not make a lot of cookies. Just 16. So you may wish to double or triple it. I usually triple the recipe for Christmas.

These cookies are lovely in a tin or on a plate, as a contrast to other sweeter cookies and cookies with icing. But they are fragile. So treat them tenderly.

All recipes, copyright 2009 by Cassandra Frear.

Did your grandmother make cookies? What was your favorite cookie as a child?


  1. These sound so yummy! My hubby and I both love to have shortbread with lemon curd hmmm..... just thought of a great stocking stuffer for my hubby. I can make some of this shortbread. Then I can buy a jar of lemon curd and put it in his stocking. Christmas morning he can have shortbread and lemon curd for a special treat along with a steaming cup of hot tea. He would absolutely LOVE that! We have some Yorkshire tea straight from England. My Mom ordered some for us probably a year ago and has kept us supplied with it since. My hubby and I both really enjoy that tea.

    Hope you have a great week!

  2. Sigh.... my heart is a-flutter! ha ha THANK YOU so much for sharing this with us! This is such a treat! I absolutely can't wait to try this - THIS WEEKEND! I didn't know that about the salt either so that is good to know. I make scones often so I usually have unsalted butter around anyway and now I'll have another use for it!

    Question for you... I was recently given for my birthday a flat shortbread mold to use for these types of cookies. Do you recommend any changes for using your recipe? (butter the mold?)

    And to answer your question... the old Victorian House is located in Central California, completely surrounded by ugly city freeways, etc. You wouldn't even know it's there as it's tucked away behind tree groves.

  3. I love Shortbread. I might try this.

  4. ChaChaneen,

    Glad to send you a thrill -- however simple -- for Christmas. Merry, merry!


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