Traditional Scottish shortbread biscuits date back as far as the 12th century. However, the cookies came into their own in the mid-16th century. Mary, Queen of Scots, favored Petticoat Tails, a thin, crisp, buttery shortbread originally flavored with caraway seeds.
Back then, shortbread was an expensive luxury. According to Historic UK, for ordinary people, the cookies were a special treat. Shortbread was reserved for special occasions such as weddings, Christmas and New Year. In Shetland, it was traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over a new bride’s head on the threshold of her new home.
The custom of eating shortbread at New Year has its origins in the ancient pagan Yule Cakes, which symbolize the sun. Scottish shortbread is a traditional offering to “first footers” and others on New Year’s Day.
A Simple Butter Cookie – Scottish Shortbread
Most recipes (mine included) follow the traditional recipe originated in Scotland. One part sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour. In baking, a part can be a measure of weight or volume.
Most professional bakers use weight (grams or ounces), which is far more accurate. Most home cooks use volume (cups). Reading a bakery recipe would sound pretty foreign to those of us who grew up reading the Betty Crocker Cook Book.
I’m a home cook, so in my recipe you will see just three simple ingredients. One cup sugar, two cups butter, and three cups flour. That really is how simple this recipe can be.
Adding Flavors And Textures
If you want to get creative, you can add all sorts of different flavors and textures. Nuts added to the dough bring a nice crunch. You can dip the finished shortbread in melted chocolate or add mini chocolate chips to the dough because, well, chocolate!
It’s common to add spices or seeds to the shortbread. In winter, warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg are fun. Poppy and sesame seeds are also often found in the cookies, along with the caraway seeds so liked by Queen Mary.
Once you have the basic dough down, play around and make these Scottish shortbread cookies (or biscuits) your own.
Now you don't have to go to Scotland to have fresh homemade shortbread. This recipe is so easy you can make these cookies anytime.
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups butter
- 3 cups flour
- additional flour for kneading
- additional sugar for sprinkling on top of the cookies before baking
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Prepare baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.
- Using a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.
- Add in the flour a third at a time.
- You can use the mixer for the first 2 cups of flour, but the last flour should be mixed in by hand.
- Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and gently knead until it forms a softball.
- Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes.
- Return the dough to the floured surface and roll out a rectangle about 1/4" thick
- Trim your dough and cut into 1" x 2" bars (fingers).
- Place the bars on the prepared cookie sheet and sprinkle with granulated sugar
- Place cookies in the oven and bake for 18 - 20 minutes until light golden brown.
- Allow the cookies to cool for the first 2 - 3 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing them to a cooling rack.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 125Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 20mgSodium: 63mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 0gSugar: 5gProtein: 1g
Nutritional Information is an estimate and will vary depending on the specific ingredients used
If you are looking for more holiday cookies from around Europe, you can check out this summary of my favorites!