For the perfect Scottish Shortbread (beautifully buttery, crumbly and ‘sandy’) you should treat the dough as gently as possible … and at the end either pat the shortbread into shape lightly with your hands, or very lightly roll it out with a rolling pin. For our Scottish Shortbread we have chosen the most traditional of all the recipes, but to read different regional and historic recipes please see the end of this page. The word ‘short’ refers to how buttery and crumbly a dough is, with shortbread being the butteriest and crumbliest biscuit of them all. And while we enjoy them plain, the oldest recipes for shortbread also used to include candied peel and either caraway seeds or almonds.
Scottish Shortbread Recipe
Scottish Shortbread is traditionally made with farola, a free-flowing cream coloured and fine granular powder or flour milled from durum wheat. If this is unavailable then use rice flour (some people and regions in Scotland also substitute the farola with cornflour or a fine semolina).
- 400g plain flour
- 60g caster sugar
- 225g fresh unsalted butter
- 60g farola (or rice flour)
- (optional: a pinch of crushed sea-salt)
In one mixing bowl sieve in the flour and farola (or rice flour) – optional: mix in the crushed sea-salt if using. In another bowl cream the softened butter and sugar well, and then using your fingers knead this into the flour gradually. This is when you have to be gentle, do not over work the buttery dough.
Roll the dough out to about 1.5cm thick. Cut into regular sized fingers, and either prick the tops with a fork, or use the sharp end of a chopstick for symmetrical and decorative holes. Put them on a lined baking tray, and place in the fridge to chill for 20 minutes until firm.
Preheat the oven to 150C
Bake in the oven until they are golden brown and firm to the touch – usually between 40 minutes and 50 minutes. Allow the shortbread biscuits to cool for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle with sugar and transfer to a wire rack. Once fully cold they will last for several days in an airtight container.
To many people Scottish Shortbread is the best biscuit there is in the British Isles, while to others it is not thought so fondly … in 1852 Isobel Johnstone explained it thus, “while I am writing these lines, a friend has kindly sent me a little present from the north, of Scotch short-bread, knowing how partial I am to that triumph of confectionery art; and I am much aided in my thoughts by the fragments of shortbread I catch up while the pen pauses. I have always fancied that everybody would like short-bread as much as I do; but a literary friend of mine, a poet too, steps in to see me, and declines the offer of a piece of short-bread. “It is too sweet” for him. He does not like it.”
ORIGINAL SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD RECIPE 1847
“The Cook and Housewife’s Manual” By Christian Isobel Johnstone, Published 1847
Scottish Shortbread —To the fourth of a peck of flour, take six ounces of sifted sugar, and of candied citron, orange-peel, and blanched almonds, two ounces each. Cut these in rather long slices, and mix them with the flour. Rub down among the flour a pound of butter in very small bits, melt a half-pound more, and with this work up the flour, &c. The less kneading it gets the more short and crisp the cakes will be. Roll out the paste lightly into a large well-shaped oval cake, about an inch thick, and divide this the narrow way, so as to have two cakes somewhat the shape of a Gothic arch. Pinch the cakes neatly at the edges, and dab them on the top with the instrument, the dabber, used for the purpose, or with a fork. Strew caraway-comfits over the top, and a few strips of citron-peel. Bake on paper, rubbed with flour. The cakes may be squares, or oblong figures.—Obs. Plainer shortbread may be made by using less butter and no candied peel. The whole of the butter may be melted, which makes the process easier. Chopped almonds, and butter, are used in larger quantity for very rich shortbread.
‘Modern Cookery” by Eliza Acton, 1860
GOOD SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD.
With one pound of flour mix well two ounces of sifted sugar, and one of candied orange-rind or citron, sliced small; make these into a paste with from eight to nine ounces of good butter, made sufficiently warm to be liquid; press the paste together with the hands, and mould it upon tins into large cakes nearly an inch thick, pinch the edges, and bake the shortbread in a moderate oven for twenty minutes, or longer, should it not be quite crisp, but do not allow it to become deeply coloured.
Flour, 1 lb.; sugar, 2 oz.; candied orange or citron, 1 oz.; butter, 8 to 9 oz.: 20 minutes or more. Obs.—This, to many persons, is a very indigestible compound, though agreeable to the taste.
“The Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts” By S. Annie Frost published 1870
Scotch Shortbread.—Take half a pound of fresh butter, one pound of flour, quarter of a pound of finely pounded loaf sugar; work the butter into the sugar by degrees, then add the flour in small quantities. Knead it with the hand into either a round or square tin about an inch thick. Prick all over with a fork, and mark neatly round the edges, and bake in rather a cool oven for half an hour.
Genuine Scottish Shortbread.—Take two pounds fine flour, one pound fresh butter, half pound fine sifted sugar. Thoroughly knead these together without one drop of water (the prevailing mistake is to add more or less water), roll out the cake to half an inch in thickness, and place it over paper in a shallow tin, and fire slowly until of proper crispness. It is usual to insert in upper surface a few caraway confections and small pieces of orange-peel. Good cake should be most brittle—Scotice, “short,” —hence its name.
Shortbread.—One pound of flour, half a pound of fresh butter, three ounces of powdered lump sugar. Thoroughly mix the flour and sugar. Place your butter in the middle of the pasteboard, and pile round it the mixed flour and sugar, which you must gradually and thoroughly work into the butter. When you have worked it smooth, roll it out. Cut in the form you wish, pinch round the edges, and put some caraway comfits or citron on the top. Bake in a very slow oven.
LATER REGIONALLY DIFFERENT RECIPES
4 oz (115g) butter, 4 oz (115g) plain flour, 2 oz (60g) caster sugar, 2 oz (60g) rice flour, pinch of salt
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then work the butter in with your hands, until it has melted together from the warmth of your hands to form a dough. Press into a baking tin (this recipe is too crumbly to roll out), marking the edges with a fork, and bake in a medium oven. Leave to cool before taking out of the tin.
Beat 4 oz (115g) butter until creamy, stir in 2oz (60g) caster sugar, and then sift in 6 oz (170g) plain flour. The dough is rolled out to a very thin thickness, cut into biscuits, and bake at 300F (150C) for half an hour.
2 oz (60g) ground rice, 4 oz (115g) plain flour, stirred into 4oz (115g) softened butter and 2 oz (60g) caster sugar. The dough is then shaped and baked for 20 minutes at 170C.
2 0z (60g) cornflour, 8 oz (225g) plain flour, 6 oz (170g) slightly-salted butter and 3 oz (85g) caster sugar. Shortbread benefits from a wee bit of salt in the butter. Cream the butter and sugar and then add it into the sifted flours. Once in a dough pat it out, cut it into fingers, prick with a fork, and place onto a greased baking tray and cook in a gentle 300F (150C) oven for 35 to 40 minutes, to give a rich, feather soft shortbread.
115g butter, at room temperature, 55g caster sugar, good pinch of salt, 130g plain flour, 40g ground rice, Demerara sugar to finish.
Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Put the butter into a large mixing bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon until soft. Beat in the sugar and salt. Sift over the flour and ground rice and mix to a smooth dough; if it doesn’t come together, add a little more butter. Line a 15cm cake or tart tin with baking parchment, and pat, or lightly roll, the dough into a shape slightly smaller than the tin. Alternatively pat out to 1cm thickness and cut into biscuits and put on a lined baking tray. Put in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes until firm. Bake for around an hour (about half that for biscuits) until cooked through, but not browned. Take out of the oven and cut into fingers, slices or squares. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle with demerara sugar and transfer to a wire rack. Once cold, this should last for a good few days in an airtight container