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's the difference between Scottish shortbread and regular shortbread? ›

Traditional Scottish shortbread is a simple recipe made with sugar, butter, flour, and salt. Other shortbread styles will include leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda, which makes them crisp instead of crumbly like traditional Scottish shortbread.

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 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 are the 3 traditional shapes of shortbread? ›

There are 3 shapes: fingers, petticoat tails, and rounds

Meet the 3 shortbread shapes: petticoat tails, rounds, and fingers (the most popular type).

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.

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.

Why does shortbread have holes in the top? ›

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 do you put cornstarch in shortbread cookies? ›

Cornstarch provides the shortbread with structure, but its biggest job is keeping the cookies extra soft, tender, and light. I love adding a small amount to chocolate chip cookies too. Optional Coarse Sugar Topping: For an optional sparkly crunch on your shortbread wedges, add a sprinkle of coarse sugar before baking.

Should I refrigerate shortbread dough before baking? ›

Not necessarily. Refrigeration for 30 minutes with any cookie helps hold the shape, but it's not necessary with this particular shortbread recipe. If you're concerned there is not enough flour, causing these to spread and loose their shape, then by all means refrigerate first, then bake.

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.

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.

Why is it called millionaires 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.

What's the difference between Irish and Scottish shortbread? ›

Irish shortbread is distinct from Scottish shortbread

Irish shortbread not only sometimes changes up the butter-to-sugar ratio (possibly going with 2/3 a cup of sugar to 1 cup of butter), but also adds cornstarch in place of some of the flour present in the traditional recipe.

What does Scottish shortbread taste like? ›

Scottish shortbread cookies are a delicious classic treat that has been enjoyed for centuries. With their buttery flavour and delicate crumbly texture, they are perfect for any occasion. Ranging from a simple afternoon snack to a fancy dinner party, they never fail to impress.

What is Scottish shortbread made of? ›

Beautiful Scottish shortbread 'petticoat tails' baked in a mold and sprinkled with sugar for a classic holiday cookie. Scottish shortbread is a classic Scottish biscuit made with 3 ingredients: butter, sugar, and flour! This simple molded shortbread is the perfect holiday gift.

What do Americans call shortbread? ›

Shortbread isn't a bread, it's what we Americans call a cookie.

Are Danish butter cookies the same as shortbread? ›

Are Danish butter cookies the same as shortbread cookies? Both shortbread cookies and Danish butter cookies are very similar in texture, taste and ingredients used. Like Danish butter cookies, shortbread cookies use a good amount of butter, but normally do not use a leavener, like egg or baking powder.

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