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Easy Recipe: How To Make Traditional Scottish Shortbread

Updated on January 30, 2012

What Is Shortbread?

Scottish shortbread is often described as the jewel in the crown of Scottish baking. This moreish yet satisfying biscuit is widely enjoyed not only by the Scotts, but it has accompanied many cups of tea across the world. This Scottish recipe has three primary ingredients - flour, sugar and butter. Despite originally being a Scottish desert, shortbread is now made across the U.K. and has influenced the making of similar biscuits in neighboring countries like Ireland and Denmark.

Origin Of Shortbread

The name originates from the old word short (meaning crumbly texture). The high fat content from the butter gives this crumbly texture to the shortbread so the more butter added, the softer and more crumbly the texture will be.

Shortbread was around during the 12th century, and in the 16th century it was improved to a refined standard that was set by Mary, Queen of Scotts. It is argued that the traditional Scottish recipe of shortbread, petticoat tails was named by her. This famous type of shortbread comes in the shape of triangular wedges and was traditionally flavored with caraway seeds. Caraway is also known as Meridian Fennel and is an aromatic herb found commonly in European foods.

Shortbread used to be expensive and was usually enjoyed as a luxury on special occasions like Christmas and Hogmanay (Scottish New year’s Eve). Nowadays shortbread is plentifully available in different varieties and is an everyday favorite desert for many. In 2007, Walkers Shortbread Ltd was reported as Scotland’s largest food exporter.

Traditional Scottish Shortbread Recipe

This traditional shortbread recipe is for 2 round shortbread ‘cakes’ at 12 pieces each.

The traditional recipe uses oatmeal flour but plain, all purpose white flour (wheat) is common in shortbread today.

  • 2lb (900g) Oatmeal flour
  • 1lb (450g) Superfine sugar (caster sugar)
  • 2lb (900g) Butter
  • 1lb (450g) Semolina (couscous or rice flour)
  • Pinch of salt - to taste


  1. Set the oven to 140C/275F or gas mark 2
  2. Mix all the ingredients together using a blender/food processor until the mixture forms the consistency of smooth but almost crumbly dough. (Alternatively mix by hand with soft butter after sieving the ingredients – rice flour advised for this method.)
  3. Split mix into two level circles of around 20cm (8”) or fit into two round baking trays of similar diameter. (Loose bottom cake tins recommended)
  4. Decoratively displace or score the surface with a fork and gently mark out 12 even wedges. Neatly pinch the cakes at the edges or use a cake crimper for a more ostentatious presentation.
  5. Bake for at least 45 minutes before checking then cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.
  6. Remove from oven and leave on a wire cooling tray for about 30 minutes.
  7. Gently cut the shortbread into wedges while still warm.
  8. Store the traditional shortbread in an airtight container.

Other alternative or additional ingredients:

  • Cornflour
  • Blanched Almonds
  • Candied Peel (crystallized fruit)

What is the difference between shortbread and shortcake?

Shortbread is similar to shortcake; however shortcake uses vegetable fat as an alternative to butter and also includes baking powder to lighten and soften the texture.


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    • Jeannette-J profile image

      Jeannette Johansson 5 years ago from Orem, UT

      I absolutely love shortbread! And I discovered a few years ago that I'm one of Mary's descendants! Obviously a distant one. Nice to hear something positive since most available info on her focuses on the negative.

    • Infobrowser profile image

      Infobrowser 5 years ago from UK

      It is indeed. There's so much variety out there! Thanks for commenting.

    • rjsadowski profile image

      rjsadowski 5 years ago

      It is always interesting to learn about the origin of traditional foods from any country.