What Is Scottish Shortbread?

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  • Written By: Eugene P.
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2019
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Scottish shortbread is a hard, slightly sweet and somewhat crumbly cookie that has a buttery flavor and can keep well when stored in an airtight container. Scotland is where shortbread originated, so Scottish shortbread is really the authentic recipe that has since become the basis for more complex desserts. Ingredients for Scottish shortbread traditionally include butter, flour and sugar, although variations see the addition of vanilla, pecans or different types of flour. When the cookies are done baking, they can be served without any accompaniments or with sweet toppings such as fruit, whipped cream or ice cream. They often are eaten with coffee or tea.

The most basic recipe for Scottish shortbread uses one part sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour. The proportions are often changed based on the tastes of the cook or the final use of the cookie. The type of sugar used is most often brown sugar or unrefined sugar that helps to maintain the hard yet cake-like texture of the cookie. Similarly, a high-fat ingredient such as butter — not margarine — must be used to get the proper texture, because the fat content will prohibit glutens in the flour from forming into long strands. The simple combination of ingredients creates a shortbread cookie that crumbles easily when bitten into or cut.


Making Scottish shortbread can begin in one of two ways. A very simple start to the dough is to cream room-temperature butter and sugar together to make a moist base for the eventual addition of the flour. The flour is slowly added to the butter and sugar and incorporated until hard dough is formed.

An older method that does not use electric mixers starts with very cold butter that is run over a grater and shredded into a bowl containing the flour. With bare hands, the butter and flour are slowly pinched together until the flour is coated and has formed into rough crumbles in the bowl, after which the sugar is added and incorporated. The dough is actually formed as the crumbles are pressed into the baking pan, not before.

Whichever method is used, the final dough is flattened and then either placed in a single piece on a baking sheet or formed into small individual cookies. Molds are sometimes used to make patterns on top of the cookies. A fork or knife also can be used to score the surface, making simple holes or patterns. The Scottish shortbread dough is then baked slowly until it has set. The shortbread is usually cut while it is still hot, because it will not crack or crumble as much as it would if it were cut after cooling completely.



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