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History of Shortbread & Shortbread Recipes

History of Scottish Shortbread

Scottish shortbread evolved from medieval biscuit bread, which was a twice-baked, enriched bread roll dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a Rusk (soft, sweetened biscuit). Eventually butter was substituted for yeast, and shortbread was born. Since butter was such an important ingredient, the word "shortbread" derived from shortening. Shortbread may have been made as early as the 12th Century, however its invention is often attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th Century. Petticoat Tails were a traditional form of shortbread said to be enjoyed by the queen. The round shortbread was flavored with caraway seeds, baked and cut into triangular wedges. The triangles resemble the shape of fabric pieces used to make petticoats during the rein of Queen Elizabeth I. Shortbread was also made in individual round biscuits called shortbread rounds and in a rectangular slab, which was cut into thin pieces known as fingers. All of these forms of shortbread are still made today.

In the beginning shortbread was expensive and reserved as a luxury for special occasions like Christmas, Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve), and weddings. Through the years it developed into an everyday favorite and is now enjoyed all around the world. Traditional shortbread consisted of three main ingredients: flour, sugar and butter. Today many varieties of shortbread exist, but most still include the traditional ingredients. The type and texture of the dry ingredients greatly influences the consistency of the shortbread. The addition of rice flour gives shortbread a grainy, crumbly texture while cornstarch (corn flour) gives it a more dense texture.

Interesting facts about Shortbread:

  • In Shetland a decorated shortbread was traditionally broken over a bride’s head before she entered her new home.
  • Shortbread was classified as a bread by bakers to avoid paying the tax placed on biscuits.
  • The Scottish custom of eating shortbread on New Year’s Eve derives from an ancient pagan ritual of eating Yule Cakes.
  • January 6th of each year is National Shortbread Day.
Shortbread Recipes
Traditional Shortbread Recipe *condensed from Undiscovered Scotland


  • 2/3 cup softened butter
  • 1/4 cup ground rice
  • 1/3+ cup caster (superfine) sugar - reserve some for dusting
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


  1. Preheat oven to 300°F   2. Grease and flour baking sheet   3. Mix butter and sugar until creamy/fluffy   4. Add flour and ground rice and form into a dough   5. Form dough into a ball   6. Flour surface, dough and your hands and knead into a flat, round shape   7. Adding more flour roll the dough into a round with a rolling pin   8. Place the dough on baking sheet   9.With a wooden spoon handle, make indents around the edges 10. Score the dough into 8 segments with a sharp knife 11. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden at the edges but soft in the middle 12. Cut the dough into segments 13. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and dust with reserved sugar 14. Serve warm or cooled

Cranberry & White Chocolate Shortbread Recipe *condensed from Joy of, by Stephanie Jaworski


  • 1 stick unsalted butter softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup fine yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon rice flour or cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries (or cherries)
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate chips or chunks


  1. Preheat oven to 300°F   2. Grease and flour a 6" tart pan with removable bottom   3. Mix butter and sugar until smooth   4. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, rice flour and salt and combine with butter/sugar mixture   5. Beat the mixtures until incorporated, and fold in dried cranberries and white chocolate chips   6. Press dough into tart pan and prick the top with a fork   7. Score the top of the shortbread into 8 even pieces and dust with sugar   8. Bake 60-75 minutes or until browned   9. Cool on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes 10. Remove round from tart pan and cut into 8 wedges 11. Cool completely on wire rack


Scottish Shortbread Historic-