Scottish Shortbread Cookies Recipe {traditional recipe}

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.

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?

traditional scottish bread post

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.

My Favorite Shortbread Cookie Recipe

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

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!

Get Mom’s recipe for gluten-free baked oatmeal cookies here. 

I hope you enjoy how this  Scottish shortbread recipe is easy to make. Once you get started, you are sure to want to make these cookies over and over again.

Maybe you’ll want to play the bagpipes, too? Or grab 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 cookies 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 cookies recipe ever!)

Traditional Scottish Shortbread Recipe

Traditional Scottish Shortbread Recipe

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. Begin by bringing the butter to room temp by leaving it out on the counter for 20 minutes or so.
  2. Mix the softened butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Mix well, and then bring together into a ball with your hands, the mixture will be crumbly until you do so. You'll have to "press it" into a ball. 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.
  5. Form a disk with the dough, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  6. Roll out into 1/4 inch thickness.
  7. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into rectangles. You can also use a cookie cutter, if that's easier for you.
  8. Poke a fork carefully into the little rectangles, creating holes. This helps with even cooking. Place in the refrigerator for thirty minutes.
  9. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 20 minutes at 350°.
  10. Remove to the cooling rack, and serve.
Nutrition Information:

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 0Cholesterol: 0mgSodium: 0mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g

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 the 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 winter solstice, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and on 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 shortbread cookie 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 the tiny rectangles before you bake, it will be a lot easier to cut, as the dough will firm up into a nice consistency.

You don’t have to chill it very long – twenty to thirty minutes is all you need. However, chiling 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.

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 brings back childhood memories for you? Will you make this Scottish shortbread recipe?

traditional scottish bread pinterest

updated September 7th 2020 by Rebekah White

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76 thoughts on “Scottish Shortbread Cookies Recipe {traditional recipe}”

  1. This recipe looks fab, but I have one question. The ingredient list calls for baking powder, but the recipe reads ” add baking soda…” Which is correct?
    Thanks; one happy baker 🙂

          1. Thank you for this. Oh I’m Welsh UK, and Never use grams. I’m old school. Lol.
            Also hubby American. I only use AMERICAN measurement.

            Looking forward to trying this recipe as only one seen using baking powder.

            Merry Christmas one and all.

    1. Mine collapsed in the oven and came out as 1 large piece of biscuit. What did I do wrong? The powdered sugar you mentioned is icing sugar isn’t it?

  2. Hey Heather, just dropping in to try your shortbread cookies. Love your picture we could be twins. Pretty computer savvy for a homesteading hippy! Love it!

  3. Thank you so much for this recipe! My grandmother was also born in Aberdeen, so I grew up eating these cookies all the time! I lost her recipe so I’m so glad I found this. My husband said they taste like hers! ?

  4. Hi Heather,
    My mothers side of the family was from Scotland. I remember inhaling my grandmothers shortbread at Christmas. I unfortunately lost her recipe. I do remember that she put in about a quarter cup (I think) of rice flour. Does this ring any bells for you. I have yet to eat shortbread that reminds me of Gramma’s.
    Nancy ??

    1. Hmmmm….I don’t recall my grandmother or mother using rice flour. Interesting though…I need to try a recipe with that so they can be gluten free. Hope Grandma won’t mind 🙂

      1. Hi Heather, the recipe looks so delicious and in my ‘past’ life I would have love to make this. However, now that I’m pre-diebectic I was wondering if I could substitute the ‘flour’ with almond flour. Thanks for posting your delicious recipe!

    2. My good friend, who’s not Scottish, makes her shortbread with rice flour. She insisted that’s the secret ingredient. They may not be how the Scots make them, but they’re PDG (pretty darn good!)

    3. Hi there
      My mother was from Scotland and she made this every year. Her recipe called for fruit sugar and rice flour. Does this ring a bell at all?

  5. Hi Heather,

    My mother’s parents were also born in Aberdeen. My grandparent’s owned a lodge in their later years in Canada on Sparrow Lake. I haven’t made shortbread in a few years due to illness, but so looking forward to making right after I write this note. Thanks so much.

  6. Iam making tgese for our church function this week. my dough is not crumbly. Iused your exact ingredients, what’swrong?

    1. Sorry mistakes, I’m making these for our church function. I have used your ingredients exactly but thr dough isn’t crumbly. What’s wrong?

  7. My grandma taught me to make these 45 years ago, with this exact recipe. Easy enough for a child to make, so I taught my daughter to make them as soon as she could lift the rolling pin. Still our favorite cookie to make (& eat!)

  8. Made 11 batches of these cookies for party favors. Not only were they so easy to make they were a hit….so yummy. Thank you

    1. The dough freezes well. To be honest, I have never had enough cookies leftover to try freezing them, but I see no reason they shouldn’t do well.

  9. Amy McKinnon/Spence

    It brings me back to my grandparents from Glasgow and I remember us making this wonderful cookie with tea of course! Thank for the wonderful recipe.

  10. Hi Heather…im also a Heather with a Scottish nana from Aberdeen. Also listen to Scottish music..& adore the bagpipes.
    Im going to try these…doubt they will last an hour. Thank you for the wonderful post
    I live in South Africa

  11. Wow! These worked out amazing! I am nine and I made these for my teachers for Christmas gifts. I dipped the end in melted chocolate and sprinkles! I added 1/4 of a cup of powdered sugar because I ❤️Sweet things! Merry Christmas!❄️☃️

  12. Hi! I’m excited to try these cookies! Easy but I’m sure delicious recipe. Quick question, my dough is in the fridge, I’m reading your recipe and it says using a sharp knife to cut them into triangles. But then the next sentence says poke holes in the rectangles. Just checking if the triangle should in fact be a rectangle! Ha! Thanks 😀

  13. I have been looking for a really good shortbread cookie for years – there was always something missing…until I tried THIS recipe! These are crispy on the outside and nice and flaky on the inside. These will be a welcome addition to my holiday cookie tray – IF they last that long lol The only thing I did differently was to sprinkle some coarse sugar on them before baking just to get a bit of a sparkle. Thanks for such a great recipe 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I LOVE the idea of adding sugar to the outside…why didn’t I think of that before??? 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  14. Claire Owens-Robert

    My Scottish grandma (Glasgow) never could make good shortbread! So I’m glad to find this recipe to start on my quest to find the best shortbread recipe! Scottish roots run deep! 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇨🇦 Thanks!

  15. Hi there,

    I didn’t find your recipe successful. I found the cooking time too long. That said perhaps my biscuits were slightly thinner than 1/4inch – would this effect the cooking time?

    Thanks so much,
    Kim

    1. you could certainly try…I never have myself. It might be too thick, but you never know until you try it right?

  16. Hello Heather,

    I am curious if you have ever put this dough in a Scottish cookie mold? You know the ones that have thistles and petticoat designs?
    I tried one time with my whipped shortbread and it was a funny mess.
    My Mum was from Perthshire, not far from Aberdeen.
    Thank you, Mairi

    1. Kathy Poidomani

      Hi Heather,
      I plan to try your recipe soon! My Dad was half Scottish & Scottish customs, patterns etc. ran deep including bagpipes & kilts at funerals. I also had a Scottish midwife and dear friend who delivered my 3rd child. Several days later she brought me Scottish shortbread that was wonderful! I moved soon after & lost her recipe so you’ve given me a gift. She also used part rice flour so I plan to use 1/4 cup & reduce the flour by 1/4 cup. Can’t wait to taste them! Thanks so much!
      Kathy P.

  17. Love short bread cookies, but the recipe used called for 1/4 tsp almond, but used Ameretto. Lost the recipe, but will try this one.

  18. Hi Heather,
    I can’t wait to try this, my mum is from Scotland and this will be a great surprise for her this Christmas, thank you for sharing!
    Sorry about your mum,
    Love to you and your family!
    Dorothy

  19. My dough is still crumbly and falls apart so I can not even begin to roll it out. Followed the recipe exactly, mixed dough with electric mixer and refrigerated it overnight.
    What can I do to save this batch???

  20. Kathy MacPherson

    I am currently in a baking class for one year and we often need to tweak a recipe (formula). Some with success and some not. I would recommend those with too much crumb to whip up a wee bit more butter, say a Hail Mary and try to incorporate without overworking the dough. It cannot hurt to try. Good luck.

  21. Hi! I made this recipe last night to eat while cuddling with my animals & binge watching Supernatural.. This is such a lovely recipe! I’d never made shortbread before but this turned out simply splendid. The perfect combination of something sweeter that’s also savory. Wonderful recipe and the background is great. Your mom sounds like she was an amazing woman. Prayers for you and I’ll have to check out your other recipes!

  22. So I’m making these now. I found the 20 minutes to be too long, got more brown on the edges than I would like. I rolled mine 1/4 inch and cut with scalloped cutter. I did the second batch about 10 minutes. I like the look better, but will have to check the texture. The brown ones still taste okay, but I want them more yellow.

  23. For those with a crumbly dough…Flours can vary—a hard wheat or a soft wheat. Some recipes , esp. bread recipes go by weight rather than volume because flour can vary by humidity and how it loose (think sifted) or dense it may be. Lots of variables.

  24. This is my husband’s fav cookie. He wants these for his birthday instead of cake. So… he shall he cookies! Great recipe..thanks

  25. I made these simple but delicious biscuits with my fangirls, we agree they are yummy and will now join other recipes in our recipe file. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

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