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Exploring Shortbread: A Centuries Old Treat With Recipes for Today

Updated on September 12, 2017
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

In The Beginning

When studying the history of British cuisine, one thing is evident—the foods of this island country have been influenced by numerous invaders. First, there were the Vikings who brought the practice of drying and smoking fish. The Romans brought cherries, peas, and cabbages. (Need I mention that they also brought wine?) Even the French (Franco-Normans) added some spice to the melting pot, injecting saffron, nutmeg, pepper, ginger, and sugar. (What would a Christmas dinner be without plum pudding or an Easter without hot cross buns?)

But none of these marauders ventured very far north. Haggis, oatcakes, scones and shortbread are and have always been decidedly Scottish. The advent of shortbread began with the thrifty mentality of letting nothing go to waste. According to EnglishTeaStore.com:


Scottish shortbread evolved from medieval biscuit bread, a twice-baked, enriched bread roll dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a rusk. Eventually, butter was substituted for yeast, and shortbread was born.

When exactly this occurred is a source of debate. Some food historians say there is evidence as early as the 12th century. However, the shortbread that we recognize today is more akin to the treat favored by Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) whose French chefs refined the recipe to suit the fussy monarch.

Why Is It Called Shortbread?

Some say that the word short is because of it’s “short” (crumbly) texture. Others think the name derived from high quantity of shortening (butter) in the dough. A traditional shortbread is made with a ratio of one part sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour. Original shortbreads were fashioned with flour made of ground oats; wheat flour came much later.

As you can see, shortbread has very few components; therefore the quality of those ingredients must be the best you can buy. Assuming that you do not own a dairy farm, you will need to purchase sweet creamery butter at your local grocery store. For these recipes, I would urge you to splurge and buy a good-quality butter, not the usual store-named brand.

Recipes

Shortbread (SB) Cookies In This Article

  • Traditional Scottish SB
  • Chocolate Chip SB
  • Carb Diva's (that's me!) Rosemary SB
  • White Chocolate Raspberry Slice cookies
  • Double Dark SB Cookies
  • Cranberry Orange SB Cookies
  • Maple Bacon SB
  • Downton Abbey Earl Grey SB

Traditional Scottish Shortbread

The HomesteadingHippy.Com writes from the heart and prepares foods with tradition and passion. Her Scottish shortbread is from her grandmother's recipe file.

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Rachel Farnsworth is the StayAtHomeChef.com. She enjoys creating restaurant-quality foods at home and sharing those creations on her blog. Although the addition of chocolate chips is far from "traditional", I can't argue with anything chocolate. (Goodness, she even dips the finished shortbread in melted chocolate!)

Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Traditionally shortbread is pressed into a baking pan, scored, and baked. This lemony shortbread is rolled out and cut like a sugar cookie. Not traditional, but I won't argue. The sweet, bright flavor of lemon makes these a perfect cookie for a summer picnic, cookout in the backyard, or what about a tart treat with a scoop of vanilla ice cream? Thanks to Rachel (yes, another Rachel) who gives us EazyPeazyMealz.com.

Carb Diva's Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

I love rosemary. It isn't fussy about when it is pruned--in fact, the more you clip it the fuller and bushier it becomes. It blooms in the summer with hundreds of small blossoms ranging in color from palest lavender to deep bluish-purple. Rosemary is drought tolerant but doesn't mind our wet winters as long as it is planted in well-drained soil. It loves our summer sun but can withstand all but the coldest of weather. And (probably best of all) the deer and rabbits totally ignore it.

And I love the fragrance. it makes a wonderful potpourri and is a frequent guest in Mediterranean cooking. Another herb which has a similar fragrance and form is lavender. It too is used for potpourri and in cooking. It's the main ingredient in Herbs de Provence. This summer I visited the lavender festival in Sequim, Washington and tasted lavender shortbread. It was crisp and sweet with a subtle herby aroma and taste. Botanically, rosemary is a cousin of lavender. And so I wondered--could I make a similar shortbread and use rosemary instead of lavender?

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons mild honey
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • Garnish small rosemary sprigs
  • Special equipment parchment paper

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and rosemary. In a separate bowl mix together butter, honey, and confectioners sugar with an electric mixer at low speed, then add flour mixture; mix until dough resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
  3. Gather dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Knead dough until it just comes together, about 8 times. Halve dough and form each half into a 5-inch disk. Roll out 1 disk (keep remaining dough at room temperature) between 2 sheets of parchment into a 9-inch round (trim as necessary).
  4. Remove top sheet of parchment and transfer dough on bottom sheet of parchment to a baking sheet. Score dough into 8 wedges by pricking dotted lines with a fork, then mark edges decoratively. Arrange rosemary sprigs (if using) decoratively on top of dough, pressing lightly to help adhere, and sprinkle dough with 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar.
  5. Repeat with 2nd round of dough.
  6. Bake shortbread in middle of oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Slide shortbread on parchment to a rack and cool 5 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a cutting board and cut along score marks with a large heavy knife.

White Chocolate Raspberry Slice Cookies

I have been making these buttery raspberry jam cookies for years; the flavor reminds me of a Fisher scone from the county fair.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups all-jpurpose flour
  • 1/4 cup raspberry jam
  • 2 ounces white chocolate, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Place butter, sugar, and vanilla in large bowl. Beat with mixer until smooth and fluffy. Stir in flour; continue to beat with mixer until dough comes together.
  4. Divide dough into thirds. On a lightly-floured surface form each piece of dough into a log 9 inches long and 1-inch thick.
  5. Place logs of dough 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheet.
  6. Press your finger into the dough to make 1/2 inch wide indentations at 1 inch intervals along each log.
  7. Spoon 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation.
  8. Bake in preheated over until edges are lightly browned, about 12 to 15 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet.
  10. Melt the chocolate following package instructions. Place melted chocolate in a heavy plastic bag and snip off a tiny piece of one corner so you can use it as a pastry bag. Drizzle white chocolate decoratively over each log of dough. Make the hole larger, if necessary. If the chocolate starts to stiffen as you work, heat the bag in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.
  11. Chill until the chocolate is firm and then slice each log diagonally into 9 slices. (Makes 27 cookies)

Recipe adapted from Challenge Butter website.

Double Dark Chocolate Shortbread

I love buttery shortbread. And, I love dark, rich chocolate. Put the two of those together in one succulent bite? Mind blown!! It's Oreo cookie wafer ascended to Olympic Gold Medal status. Thank you TheViewFromGreatIsland.com for this amazing recipe. I will love you forever!

Cranberry Orange Shortbread Cookies

Trish has such a cute blog at MomOnTimeOut.Com. She calls it "real food for real families." Her cranberry-orange shortbread is everything I think of in an Autumn, Thanksgiving-type sweet.

Bacon Maple Shortbread

This one is for all of my meat-loving friends, those of you who cannot go a day without indulging your carnivorous tendencies. Kevin has been www.closetcooking.com for years (cooking in a closet-sized kitchen) and I adore his innovative ideas. If you love bacon, and maple, and cookies why not mash up all of those into this one succulent bite?

Downton Abbey Earl Grey Shortbread

I adored the PBS series "Downton Abbey" and, being 50 percent British, I adore anything and everything from the Isles (except for haggis. Let's not talk about haggis). These tea-flavored biscuits would be perfect with a spot of tea at 4 o'clock.

© 2017 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 2 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, you gave me my chuckle for the day. Thanks so much. I hope you have a spectacular weekend.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      Shortbread is a family favourite in our household, especially with a cup of 'English breakfast' (usually served as afternoon tea)

      We are fortunate that we can actually get 'choc chip' shortbread cookies here in NZ, then again, we've always been innovative!

      Great hub.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 8 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Mary, thank you (as always) for your kind words and support. I love shortbread because I prefer a treat that is a bit less sweet. The "buttery-ness" (is that a word?) does it for me.

      The cranberry orange is definitely a winner, but I always make the raspberry with white chocolate drizzle at Christmas time. It's become a tradition and I fear I would be in trouble with the family if I stopped.

      P.S. I'm sorry about your keyboard.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      Wow, you've opened my eyes to some new things. I love shortbread and have made it since living in Brazil. You are so right about the need for quality ingredients. In other recipes with multiple ingredients sometimes you can't tell if there is a substitution, shortbread is different.

      So many to try, I think the cranberry and orange ones sound delightful.

      As always after reading your articles, I am now drooling on my keyboard. LOL

    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning Suzie HQ. I'm glad you found my article. The rosemary one is a bit different, but I promise it will not disappoint. Homemade is always best.

    • profile image

      Suzie HQ 2 months ago

      Thanks Linda, a favorite of mine these options on the traditional shortbread are interesting and love your Rosemary one! I do love a good Scottish shortbread, maybe the Celt in my blood and a homemade far outweighs store bought. Definitely be keeping this and trying out a few, Cheers!

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, you needn't dream, you can make this shortbread. Any of the recipes I've presented are very do-able, even by the novice baker. I hope you enjoy.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Ah to be young again. A hostel a few kilometers from Edinburgh castle. Next door was a bakery. I think we spent a dollar a night at the Youth Hostel and five bucks a day on shortbread.

      Now I just read this wonderful article and gained five pounds just dreaming.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, the packaged ones probably (and I don't know this for a fact) contain some shelf-stabilizing ingredients. I hope you can find the time to make these for your mother in-law. As I cautioned billybuc, keep a watchful eye on them as they bake. With the high-fat content of the butter these can rapidly go from gently golden brown to burnt sacrifice.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      I read this last night but just before I could comment my phone died. My mother loves shortbread and always asks for Walker's I think it is at special occasions but it would be great to try out a recipe. You have some good ones to choose from. As much as she likes the packaged stuff this would be so much fresher.

    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning Audrey. Shortbread is one of my favorites, especially if it isn't terribly sweet. I prefer buttery to sweet any day.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 2 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      I love shortbread! The combination of ingredients found in this delicate treat is the best. Thanks for the history, recipes and fabulous photos. Yummy!

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I think it's time you had some decent shortbread. Try any one of these and you will be pleased. Do watch them carefully as they bake, however. They can go quickly from golden to burnt beyond recognition in a flash.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You know what? I've never had shortbread! Somehow, in my sixty-eight years, this item has escaped me. This leaves me in an unusual position of being unable to thumb my nose at it. LOL I guess I'll have to try it before making any snide remarks about it, huh?

      Sigh....thanks for the recommendation and have a super week.