Traditional Scottish Shortbread Cookie Recipe (2024)

My Grandfather was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, and therefore, was Scottish. The Scottish are known for their kilts, their bagpipes, and Scottish shortbread cookies. All three played a huge role in my childhood, actually.

My mother loved to hear the bagpipes playing and would make us listen to records of songs on bagpipes. My grandfather had a kilt, and I have pictures of him wearing it. He looked so majestic, so regal.

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Around the holidays, when my mother would get into a cookie-baking mood, she would grab her cookbooks off the shelf and make a list.

Scottish shortbread was ALWAYS on the list of “to bake cookies.” Along with chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, spritz cookies, no-bake cookies… you get the idea, right?

She would make a list of batches of cookies, multiply that by 8, then get baking.

It was supposed to be a fun day baking cookies with the kids, but we would always get bored after the first cookies came out. Every year, she’d be up for hours by herself baking sheets and sheets of cookies.

To get the recipe for no-bake peanut butter cookies, read the post here.

Like any other cookie recipe in our house at that time, we would have to make triple batches to have enough to share with the neighbors.

My brothers and I could barely keep our fingers out of the raw dough, too. Since there aren’t any eggs in it, you could always try the dough for yourself. If you like raw cookie dough, that is.

What Are Shortbread Cookies?

Lots of people wonder whether shortbread cookies are the same thing as butter cookies. Both have a lot of butter in them – especially compared to other cookies – but butter cookies have more flour and sugar.

They are also baked at higher temperatures and tend to hold their consistency and shape when they are baked.

Shortbread, on the other hand, has a higher ratio of butter to flour and is baked at a lower temperature. This kind of cookie will have a crumbly and somewhat dry consistency, melting in your mouth as you eat.

Actually, that’s the whole reason why shortbread cookies are called shortbread cookies!

They have a more crumbly texture like what you’d find in bread, and it also has to do with an old meaning of the word “short” as opposed to “long,” or stretchy.

The texture is created by the higher fat content in the cookies – which you get from the butter.

Traditional shortbread cookie dough is pretty much the same as regular shortbread cookie dough – with a couple of exceptions.

Traditional Scottish shortbread was actually made with leftover bits of yeast, oatmeal, and bread dough. This made the cookies even more like biscuits (and even dryer!) than they are today.

The modern Scottish shortbread recipe has evolved, of course. It’s much more hydrated and although it’s still dry, it’s not nearly as crumbly.

Shortbread cookie dough tastes almost like raw pie crust. It just “misses” something when it’s not baked.

I still make these Scottish shortbread cookies from time to time. Especially around the holiday season…

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As far as recipes of 5 ingredients or less cookies, this always wins. Since my mother has passed, it’s not quite the same. I miss her smile, her laughter.

I miss the ways her eyes would light up when she saw her grandchildren. I even miss the bagpipe music. Ah, Mom…how I miss you!

Maybe you’ll want to play the bagpipes, too? Orgrab a kilt and be traditional. No kilt? That’s okay; you can still enjoy the Scottish shortbread cookies!

One bite and you’ll see why this cookie recipe is so popular in our home. It’s full of light, flaky layers that are perfect with tea or milk.(seriously, it’s the world’s best homemade cookie recipe ever!)

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Traditional Scottish Shortbread Recipe

5 from 2 votes

Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Course Desserts

Cuisine Scottish


  • 1 bowl

  • plastic wrap

  • cooling rack

  • cookie sheet

  • food mixer


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  • Begin by bringing the butter to room temp by leaving it out on the counter for 20 minutes or so.

  • Mix the softened butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.

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  • Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, then mix well.

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  • Place an ungreased sheet in the pan

  • Pour the dough into a baking pan, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

  • Press with fingers into 1/4 inch thickness. The key to successful shortbread cookie dough is to handle it as little as possible. Don’t pound or knead it heavily or this can affect the levity of the shortbread.

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  • Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into rectangles. You can also use a cookie cutter, if that’s easier for you.

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  • Poke a fork carefully into the little rectangles, creating holes. This helps with even cooking. Place in the refrigerator for thirty minutes.

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  • Bake for 20 minutes at 350 °F (175 °C).

  • Remove to the cooling rack, and serve.

Serving Suggestions & Recipe Variations

Frankly, I think these cookies taste great all by themselves! However, there are several variations and “spins” you can take when making and serving them.

One is to serve the cookies in a dish of vanilla ice cream, ideally with some chocolate syrup and fresh strawberries. This makes for a summery dessert that will transform a classic holiday cookie into a year-round dessert.

Also, although this recipe calls for powdered sugar, it’s important to note that you can use other kinds of sugar, too.

Organic cane sugar or even brown sugar will work, but of course, there will be a slight variation in how the cookie tastes (but they’re still delicious, mind you).

If you want your cookies to be a bit less on the sweet side, you might want to reduce the amount of sugar you use ever so slightly.

I’ve seen this recipe elsewhere, and some people use substitutions like shortening instead of butter. I would really recommend using butter for this recipe.

Even lard won’t do the trick as it doesn’t lend the same flavor to the cookies.

In some parts of Britain, a similar shortbread recipe is used that includes baking soda, baking powder, and/or vegetable fat -but to stay true to the Scottish treat, you need to avoid these in yours.

Classic shortbread doesn’t normally have icing, but you can feel free to add some royal icing if you’d like! The flat cookie provides a great base and bland enough flavor for icing or frosting of any kind.

You can also add “add-ons” or “mix-ins” to this recipe, including candied citrus peels, candied ginger, rosemary, dried cranberries, or anything else that may strike your imagination!

Scottish shortbread cookies are usually served on the winter solstice, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Christmas. Normally, these cookies are served with tea or coffee – but I’ll be honest.

You can really eat these cookies at any time of the year!

Common Questions About This Recipe

Does the dough need to be chilled?

You do not need to chill your dough if you don’t want to, but it can really add a whole new dimension to your cookies.

I discovered this tip later in life and found that although my shortbread cookies of the past were absolutely delicious, these new, chilled cookies were seriously top-notch. When you chill the dough, you give it an opportunity to rest. It also rehydrates during this process.

Chilling your shortbread cookie dough will also allow the butter to firm back up.

I usually refrigerate my shortbread cookie dough after cutting it, but if you wait to cut it into tiny rectangles before you bake, it will be a lot easier to cut, as the dough will firm up into a nice consistency.

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You don’t have to chill it very long – twenty to thirty minutes is all you need. However, chilling it for longer than that shouldn’t pose any kind of problem, either. I’ve even refrigerated the dough overnight and it’s been just fine.

Can I freeze extra shortbread cookie dough?

You sure can! Freezing extra shortbread cookie dough is a great way to make the most of the extra dough you might have hanging around. I like to freeze some dough in bulk when I first start out my baking season around Thanksgiving.

Then, I have plenty already made up so I can just pop it in the oven when I’m ready to start baking shortbread cookies for Christmas parties and other holiday events.

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Why do you need to poke the holes in the shortbread?

Lots of people wonder why poking holes in shortbread is necessary. I used to assume it was just for aesthetics, but there’s actually a reason why you need to do this. As your shortbread cookies bake, the butter in the dough will melt and begin to release steam.

In order to prevent the shortbread from getting too puffy and losing its trademark dense texture in the oven, you need to poke holes into the dough before you bake. This will allow the steam to escape.

What cookies or other desserts bring back childhood memories for you? Will you make this Scottish shortbread recipe?

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Heather Harris

Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.

Learn more about Heather and the rest of the writers on this page.

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Traditional Scottish Shortbread Cookie Recipe (2024)


What is the secret to making good shortbread? ›

Tips To Make the Best Shortbread Cookies
  • Choose High Quality Butter. No matter what brand of butter you buy, if it's real butter, you can rest assured that it's the best. ...
  • Keep Ingredients Simple. ...
  • Add Flavor. ...
  • Don't Overwork. ...
  • Shape Dough. ...
  • Chill Before Baking. ...
  • Bake Until Golden. ...
  • Add Finishing Touches.

What is traditional Scottish shortbread made from? ›

Traditional Scottish Shortbread Cookies has always been one of my favorite cookies. Made with four simple ingredients, flour, butter, sugar and salt, these crumbly, buttery, delicious shortbread cookies will be a sweet treat your whole family will love!

What is the difference between Scottish shortbread and regular shortbread? ›

As mentioned above, the main differences between the two styles of cookies are butter content and inclusion of leavening agents. These differences result in very different texture and taste experiences. No matter your preference, you can be sure to get a quality product from Walkers Shortbread.

What are common mistakes when making shortbread? ›

The most common mistakes when making shortbread are over-working the dough, and incorporating too much flour. The less you work the dough, the more crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth your shortbread cookies will be.

What does adding cornstarch to shortbread do? ›

A cornstarch shortbread cookie is a shortbread cookie that contains cornstarch along with all-purpose flour in the cookie dough. The cornstarch is used to give these buttery treats a crispy, melt-in-the-mouth texture. It also helps prevent the cookies from becoming too crumbly and breaking apart.

What is the best brand of butter for shortbread cookies? ›

Kerrygold: This Irish butter is made from grass-fed cows and is known for its rich, creamy flavor. Plugra: This European-style butter is made with a higher butterfat content, which gives it a rich, creamy taste and a smooth texture.

What is shortbread called in Scotland? ›

Shortbread or shortie is a traditional Scottish biscuit usually made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three to four parts plain wheat flour. Shortbread does not contain any leavening, such as baking powder or baking soda.

What is the world's famous shortbread? ›

Walker's Shortbread is honoured to carry a Royal Warrant, granted by Her Majesty the Queen, for the supply of Shortbread and Oatcakes. Walker's Shortbread is a gift fit for a king, and a treat befitting any special occasion.

What are the 3 traditional shapes of shortbread? ›

So while you lick your lips in anticipation, here are 10 fascinating facts to get you in the mood.
  • 3 ingredients is all you need.
  • Its butteriness gives it the name 'shortbread'
  • A 12th century dough experiment was the catalyst.
  • There are 3 shapes: fingers, petticoat tails, and rounds.
Jul 12, 2022

Why do shortbreads poke holes? ›

The word "bread" comes from "biscuit bread" which was made from leftover bread dough that was sweetened and dried out in the oven to make biscuits. Why do you poke holes in shortbread? The holes allow the moisture to escape during baking and more even heat distribution. This helps dry out and crisp up the cookies.

Why is it called millionaire shortbread? ›

The name "millionaire's shortbread" appears to have originated in Scotland. The "millionaire" prefix to millionaire's shortbread or millionaires slice implies a level of decadence and wealth to the sweet treat, that it is an upgrade from regular shortbread.

Why use unsalted butter in shortbread? ›

Unsalted butter for best results

Use unsalted butter for balanced flavour. Unsalted butter was traditionally used in baking because it was a superior product to salted - salt is used as a preservative so unsalted butter was thought to be fresher.

What happens if you don't chill shortbread before baking? ›

Do I need to chill shortbread before baking? While some recipes call for the dough to be chilled before baking, you don't need to chill it in this recipe! The dough gets pressed into a baking pan, so we don't need to worry about it spreading on a baking sheet.

What happens if you don't poke holes in shortbread? ›

Piercing the shortbread with a fork is not only for decoration, but it's meant for more even baking. Poking holes in the shortbread allows the heat to penetrate the cookie, hence more even baking. Notice I'm using powdered sugar here.

What are the disadvantages of shortbread? ›

Sugar provides a fast source of energy. There are rarely any artificial additives. Cons: Shortbread is a weight watcher's nightmare because it is extremely high in saturated fat and calories.

Should you chill shortbread dough before rolling? ›

Use your hands to form the dough into a flat disc, then wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface until it is ⅛-¼” thick.

Should butter be cold for shortbread? ›

Should butter be cold or room temperature for making shortbread? Always start with cold butter straight from the refrigerator. This will keep the dough from warming up, making it greasy and difficult to roll out.

Should shortbread be crunchy or soft? ›

Shortbread should always have a tender, melting texture, but be slightly crisp when you bite into it. It should not generally be damp or wet underneath. A classic shortbread recipe will also only have flour, butter and sugar as the ingredients (in a 3:2:1 ratio) and not egg, which could lead to excess moisture.

How do you keep shortbread crust from sticking? ›

Shortbread Crust: Lightly butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, an 8 or 9 inch (20-23 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom.


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