Shortbread, photo by Donna

Seventeen years ago, my friend Stephanie began a Burns‘ night celebration, in honor of her Scottish heritage, and we carry it on still, an occasion to gather a group, once all in Cleveland but now half dispersed.  We tour the highlands, as it were, and I address the haggis— “Fair fa your honest soncie face/Great chieftan o’ the puddin race” —thrusting the knife in at the appropriate “warm-reeking” moment.  But Stephanie had arrived as well with her grandmother’s shortbread, and the book from which it comes.  Having coincidentally been making various versions of shortbread for a current project, I was particularly interested in hers.

Shortbread is the simplest of preparations, flour, butter and sugar and in that simplicity is its deliciousness.  Also, it couldn’t be easier or faster.  Boxed pancake mix takes longer.  Shortbread to me is all about the flavor of the butter.  So use good stuff.  I prefer salted butter here to enhance the flavor.

The recipe comes from The Edinburgh Book of Plain Cookery Recipes, originally published in 1920 and passed from mother to daughter twice now.  I’m comforted by the fact that the recipe in the book is in weights.  (It also happens to be the basic 321 cookie ratio.) Stephanie sends it to friends in volumes.  Both work fine in these small quantities.

Scottish Shortbread, straight from the book:

4 oz. flour
2 oz. rice flour
4 oz. butter
2 oz. castor (granulated) sugar

Directions:
Sieve the flour, rice flour, and sugar into a basin; add the butter, and work all together with the hand until the consistency of a short crust.  Form into a round cake either with the hand on a pastry board or in a shortbread mould.  Place the cake on a greased and papered tin, prick it well, and bake it in a good steady oven till beginning to colour; then moderate the heat, and allow it to crisp off slowly for about one hour.

Americanized, motorized and essentially doubled:

1-1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rice flour
8 ounces butter
1/2 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer, paddle until the dough clumps together, press in to 1 or 2 cake pans (I like 1 for thicker shortbread, Stepahnie uses 2 8-inch pans).  Prick with a fork to decorate if you wish.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly browned.  Cut into appropriate sized pieces while it’s still warm, and allow to cool completely before remove it from the pans.

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43 Wonderful responses to “Scottish Shortbread”

  • Susan @ SGCC

    True Scottish shortbread is one of the true delights in life. When I was in Scotland, I ate it by the truckload! Thanks for this recipe. Sadly, I never could get used to haggis. ;)

  • Leslie Haber

    That’s essentially the same recipe as my grandmother’s, straight from Aberdeen. Not healthy, but addictive.

    So many people have only been exposed to the commercial shortbread that is more like a butter cookie (a dry butter cookie) that they have no idea how amazing real shortbread is. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Cali

      It has less gluten and makes the shortbread more tender. I use cornstarch in place of rice flour, myself.

  • Bob

    Ooooh, going to have to try this one!

    (And I’m going to need a bigger pantry as I keep acquiring different flours for different recipes: all-purpose, whole wheat, almond flour … now rice flour!)

  • Leela@SheSimmers

    I’ve always used a combination of all-purpose flour and rice flour in most sablé applications. It results in lighter, flakier cookies. In some applications, potato or corn starch works very well too.

    For those who like their shortbread even lighter/flakier, you can also prepare the dough as described above, form it into a flat disk, freeze it firm, grate the frozen dough right into the pan with a box grater, and pat it down lightly before baking.

    Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  • ruhlman

    Claudia, that pan is Dr. Douglas’s Miracle Baking Pan. From the 60s. Truly a weird object donna picked up at thrift store.

    You probably can pulverize rice in a grain grinder or Vita Mix and use.

    And yes, as a couple have pointed out, the low gluten flour makes the crumb more tender. I tried it with potato flour and didn’t like the results. You can replace the rice flour with cornstarch.

  • Cali

    Scottish shortbread is absolutely delightful. I use cornstarch in place of rice flour. If you can control yourself, it tastes even better when it’s aged for a week or two in the cupboard. It is always the first thing I bake for holiday baking because it keeps so well.

    It’s a great multipurpose cookie, too. I never waste a crumb! I save the crumbs when I cut it and then I pulverize one piece (if needed) and use it instead of graham crackers as the “crust” for my cheesecakes, too. By “crust” I mean I butter the cheesecake pan and use shortbread crumbs like flour. There isn’t any actual crust. It works beautifully and tastes heavenly.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I really want to say that I have made this successfully, but unfortunately my last foray into Shortbread cookies had me searching for my PVC saw to cut through it…perhaps Scottish Shortbread is different…I so want to be a successful baker and I am so not…

    • Cali

      The trick is to cut it while it’s still warm. When you wait until it’s cool it’s too firm and it breaks and crumbles and turns into a big mess.

  • feed

    Just wanted to say again that a full RSS feed (with ads) would be really great. I only clicked over to this post to leave this comment, and wouldn’t have clicked over otherwise (title did not exceed interest threshold for clicking over). If you’ve made a decision, can you let us know? Thanks!

    • ruhlman

      still leaning toward keeping current feed situation. offering full feed lets people steal your content for their sites.

  • Karen

    For those who would like a delicious shortbread butter cookie recipe, try this one; it’s fool-proof. I used agave and it’s delicious: http://www.sweetsavvy.com/recipes/recipe.php?id=R8

    Also, what size of “tin” should we use for the Scottish version of your shortbread, Michael?? By the way, I LOVE the vintage pan you used!

  • John Bailey

    Would some of the other specialty flours like almond flour work?

    • Bob

      Well, I haven’t tried the Scottish shortbread above, but I recently experimented with almond cookies by request, and used the basic 3-1-2 ratio, splitting the flour evenly between all-purpose and almond.

      The cookies spread out more than you might expect, but there’s a nice soft-and-crumbly feel to them. So I imagine almond flour would work just fine.

  • Susan

    I experimented with shortbread over the holidays, trying to get the flavor and texture of my favorite Walkers Shortbread cookies I like them tender, crisp. I finally got close. Salted European style butter (not cultured), unbleached flour and a combo of caster (superfine) and regular granulated sugar (50/50) is what I found made the best flavor and texture. I also sprinkled a little castor sugar on top as soon as I pulled it from the oven. I reduced the amount of flour by 2 Tbsp from your ratio to make it more tender, and I let it rest for an hour before baking.

    I tried the cornstarch in one batch, but it gave it a flavor that tasted sort of harsh or slightly bitter to my palate. I never tried rice flour that I saw in one recipe, as I decided that the cornstarch deviated from the wheaty flavor that I taste in shortbread and thought any other flours would too.

  • The Rowdy Chowgirl

    I’ve had some delightful Burns Night celebrations, but they generally involve a lot of whiskey and reciting of poetry once everyone is good and tipsy. This shortbread would certainly make a good addition to the festivities!

  • Romona

    I love shortbread! Grandma was from Scotland and only made shortbread with rice flour, butter, flour and sugar…just like you have here.

    Melt in your mouth shortbread.

  • Rob Fargher

    I wonder if haggis will be in Vol. 2 of “Charcuterie”?

    After the plunge of the dirk into the haggis upon reaching “warm reeking” in the recital at our annual Robbie Burns Day (Jan. 25th) Scotch Tasting, it is quickly followed by the flooding of the subsequent gash with good single malt whisky. If you’ve never enjoyed haggis before, this is a magical combination. :-)

    Next year, I’ll have to make some of this Scottish shortbread to bring along. It sounds delicious.

    • Cali

      Yeah, I hear ya! I’m cool with it until we get to the lungs. I just can’t get past that part. I’m not fond of kidneys, either. The scent of urine is hard to get past.

  • Brew

    Question:

    Should the Butter be Cold from the fridge, or room temp?

  • Kathryn McGowan

    I’m intrigued to see rice flour in a Scottish cookbook from the 1920s. I wouldn’t think that rice would be a common ingredient there at that time. I suppose it could have been introduced by immigrants from Asia. Were there any in 1920s Scotland, does anyone know?

  • Jennifer

    I was fortunate enough to belong to a church in Florida that held an annual Scottish Festival. I learned to prepare some great recipes from some of our older Scottish members. One of my favorite variations on shortbread is to add oatmeal and brown sugar. (can’t lay my hands on the recipe now but if anyone is interested contact me and I will try to locate it). Another fav is Scotch Eggs. Yum.

    Michael, thanks for the story. You brought back many memories of magical Burns nights – the light scent of whiskey wafting through the air. The result of the bagpipers getting slightly pissed and then playing through the night.

  • Danielle

    Try a bit of your shortbread with a glass of high-quality single malt Scotch. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Dean Estes

    I’d be curious to know why the blogger and some of his readers substitute cornstarch for rice flour. Is it because rice flour isn’t readily available where you live? Wouldn’t cornstarch bring a very different flavor to the shortbread, and if so, is it superior to rice flour in that regard?

    I followed the recipe (with rice flour and Kerrygold salted butter) and was amazed at how well it turned out, both warm from the pan and then fully cooled this morning with coffee, mmm. Definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Store-bought: Never again!

    • Cali

      I tried using cornstarch for part of the flour because that’s what the recipe I was using (Joy of Cooking) suggested. It worked for me and I didn’t find any bitterness to it, as suggested by someone else. If I happen to see rice flour I will buy some and try it both ways and compare. Heaven knows two batches of shortbread won’t be hard to finish!

    • Dean Estes

      Thanks for the suggestion, Al. I’ll try that next time. Sounds very good.

  • Stephanie Manley

    I love to make Scottish Shortbread from scratch! It is so easy to do, and people think that you spent a lot of time in the kitchen. NordicWare sells some really nice shortbread pans if you want to make some fancy shortbread.

  • Paul Gahan

    “….in that simplicity is its deliciousness”. What a perfect phrase. All chefs (& home cooks) should aspire to make this their epitaph.