This unusual Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread is made with a fabulous sugar infused with lemon rind — the lemon flavor really pops!

Scottish Shortbread made with lemon sugar

I’m in love.  I’ve got a new shortbread recipe that’s sending me over the moon.  It’s a new technique for me, a new flavor, and a soft melting texture that is indescribable.  And that’s coming from someone who’s made about a gazillion shortbread cookies and crusts on this blog…but this one brings me back to why I fell in love with shortbread in the first place.

Scottish shortbread made with lemony sugar

Shortbread is a very old Scottish recipe renowned for its simplicity.  The original formula is one part sugar, two parts butter, three parts flour, by weight.

If you’ve ever bought packaged shortbread, including the classic Girl Scout ‘Trefoils’, you might associate it with a rather bland, crisp biscuit-y cookie.  It can be that, but it can also have a softer, more tender texture, which is the way I like it best. This dough is patted into a baking pan, pricked all over with a fork, and baked just until it sets, but is still pale.  It’s cut into ‘fingers’ while still warm, and it melts on the tongue.  If you like it more on the crisp side, you only have to bake it longer.

Classic Scottish Shortbread

As I was setting out my ingredients to make this, I remembered the wonderful lemon sugar I used in my Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins.  I figured why use regular sugar when I can get such lovely hit of lemon along with it?  It gives this shortbread a surprisingly clear citrus flavor.   I use a serrated peeler  (the sharp ‘teeth’ make peeling a breeze, even soft fruit like ripe peaches) to peel the zest off of a large lemon.  Then I process it with a cup of sugar until the zest is completely incorporated,  It only takes a minute.  The result is a slightly damp, terrifically fragrant sugar, ready for baking.  This recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar, so you will have extra.

making lemon sugar

making lemon sugar

lemon sugar

The inspiration for this shortbread came from a blog I discovered recently from the remote Shetland Islands, off the coast of Scotland.   I set out to make their Shetland Shortbread out of curiosity, knowing it would be completely authentic, and to see how it differed from my usual recipe.  Interestingly, their recipe uses melted butter, which is great because it’s so easy.  I made a couple of adjustments, and of course used the lemon sugar, and I’m thrilled with the result.

If you’ve fallen in love with this shortbread like I have, you might want to try some of my other shortbread recipes, like my Butter Pecan Shortbread, or my Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Shortbread, for starters.

Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread

Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread


  • 2 sticks, (8 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup lemon sugar (recipe below)
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 5 Tbsp cornstarch
    lemon sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler (just the yellow part, not the bitter white)


  1. Set the oven to 350F
  2. First make the lemon sugar. Put the sugar into the bowl of a small food processor, along with the zest. Process, scraping down the sides if necessary, for about a minute or so, until the zest is completely incorporated into the sugar. Measure out 1/2 cup for this recipe, and pack it down, like you do with brown sugar, when you measure it.
  3. Put the sugar into a mixing bowl and add the flour, oat flour, and cornstarch. Whisk to combine well.
  4. Pour the melted butter into the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
  5. Pat the dough into an 8 inch square baking pan, smoothing it flat with your fingers. I line the pan with parchment paper and leave the ends long so I can pull it out for cleaner cutting later. Press the dough gently, but flatten it as best you can.
  6. Prick all over with the tines of a fork. Some people like to sprinkle the top with a little sugar, I didn't.
  7. Bake for about 22 minutes, or until it is just beginning to turn pale golden around the edges. It will still be quite pale overall. If you bake it longer, it will be crisper, but I like the soft melting texture I get after about 22 minutes.
  8. Let the shortbread cool for a few minutes, and then use a sharp knife to cut it into squares, or 'fingers'. Cutting the shortbread while still warm makes a cleaner cut.


recipe adapted from A Taste of Shetland

buttery soft lemon sugar shortbread

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47 Responses to Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread

  1. Terri Pringle says:

    Can this dough be cut with a cutter? I’m looking to make stars and trees as Christmas gifts? Thanks Sue… been salivating over your recipes this morning and having a cook off this afternoon so I’ll let you know how I goes ?

  2. Janice Farnsworth says:

    Can you tell me what oat flour is? I live in the US and am not very versed in cooking but don’t recall ever seeing it here. Can I use regular flour instead? It sounds delicious!

    • Sue says:

      Oat flour is basically ground oats, and you can find it in most large grocery stores, and certainly Whole Foods type stores, Janice. I love it and use it a lot. You can make your own by grinding oats, if you have a food processor or Vitamix type blender. You can also buy it online easily at Amazon, etc.

  3. Barb Cakebread says:

    Just saw this recipe and looks amazing. Can already smell Xmas…
    I blitz together castor sugar and lemon zest and always have a batch on hand..
    Can use in so many recipes..

  4. Laura says:

    I baked it for the kids in the youth welfare service (where I work) and they loved it! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe! (:

  5. Patti says:

    I have tried several shortbread recipes, but none compare to this one.
    We are still loving these! I make it every other week and all we have shared with love it too! Thanks again!

  6. Heidi says:

    Any plans for a cookbook on all your recipes including cookies? You are my favorite chef, and I collect all your recipes on Pinterest, but I would love a book!!

  7. Patti says:

    We just baked these and cut them… half the pan is gone! Delicious, fresh, yummy!! Thank you for the lemon sugar “recipe”, what a marvelous thing!

  8. Barbara Jean says:

    I’m so excited to make these cookies ! I just swirled the lemon and the sugar ! My kitchen already smells beautiful! Would you use a Pyrex pan or a metal one?

    • Sue says:

      I almost always use my ceramic baking pan, but I think either would work. Keep an eye on the time for glass, it can cook a little quicker.

  9. Ah shortbread, heaven in a cookie. These look wonderful and I can’t wait to make them. They’ll definitely bring back memories–I was lucky enough to take a backpacking visit to Shetland a long time ago and couldn’t get over how beautiful it was. Thanks for these and for the link to the Shetland website!

  10. Susan says:

    My absolute favorite cookie with lemon sugar? Oh my! What a wonderful idea, Sue. They look irresistible!

  11. Betty says:

    My husband’s favorite cookie is shortbread, and I’d have a hard time keeping any of these for myself. I love the lemon sugar in them! :)

  12. Sue, I grew up making lemon sugar like that–isn’t it just the best use of a food processor?! A lifelong fan of shortbread, I’ll be making this one very soon! Lovely!

  13. You are absolutely right, real shortbread tastes lightyears better than anything you can get in the store. This is a stunner of a recipe!

  14. Christina says:

    Oh my, would I love these with my next cup of tea! Sue, you really have such wonderful recipes…it’s as it you are catering specifically to my taste buds! Lucky me! :)

  15. Wonderful looking shortbread Sue! I just came back from Scotland and the shortbread there is just wonderful! I didn’t make it to Shetland but I can almost taste the flavours here :)

  16. Denise says:

    Oh what tender lemony goodness! I think I might make this for Tea soon.

  17. Ashley says:

    Oh how I love shortbread – the melt-in-your-mouth wonderfulness of it! This flavor sounds absolutely fantastic!

  18. Melt in your mouth shortbread sounds like a dream, love the lemon addition!

  19. Lemony and buttery…your shortbread looks amazing!

  20. PurpleQueen says:

    Wow! This has been a most amazing lemon week! I made a chocolate thumb print cookie last weekend that featued short bread, it’s so buttery and crumbly, how could any one resist! I will look for oat flour, but just in case I can’t find it, I will use the alternate method with oatmeal. Thanks for another yummy post!

  21. Joanne Bruno says:

    I feel like the lemon sugar must MAKE these. Both fresh and buttery at the same time!

  22. You do have a gazillion shortbread recipes and they are all luscious! I can never choose-but somehow I always manage! Add another good one to the list!

  23. Louise says:

    Sue – have you considered adding ingredient weights! I know that I would appreciate that! thanks

  24. You are the shortbread queen! Hands down – this looks delightful. Love the lemon peel addition.

  25. Sippitysup says:

    I was all set to give this a try this afternoon as I thought I’d have everything handy. But I don’t have oat flour so I will have to put it off for another afternoon. But I will try this. GREG

  26. Love love love lemon. In anything. Rarely have had it in shortbread — but that will change. Really good stuff — thanks.

    • Sue says:

      I think real citrus flavor is difficult to get into cakes and cookies, etc. The lemon sugar really does the trick :)

  27. Monica says:

    I’m mesmerized by the lemon sugar! Sounds perfect here and such an interesting recipe with the melted butter. It looks divine and I’m guessing that touch of cornstarch brings a bit of textural magic to these cookies. Lovely!

    • Sue says:

      The cornstarch really does add nice texture. The original recipes uses even more, but I found that the smaller amount was enough, and the oat flour adds flavor and texture of its own.

  28. Catherine says:

    Dear Sue, These look beautiful and sounds marvelous…I love the fresh burst of lemon. What an elegant treat. xo, Catherine

  29. Cathy Yearwood says:

    I have a question on the recipe. I am in the Caribbean and there are not many specialty flours we can purchase. For the Oat flour, could I use Oatmeal and whiz in in a spice mill or something to make a flour? I love shortbread and this sounds wonderful. I am so enjoying reading these blogs and getting some wonderful recipes.

    • Sue says:

      Yes, you can make oat flour that way, Cathy. You can also follow the original Shetland recipe and use 3 oz cornstarch in place of the cornstarch and oat flour in my recipe.

      • Cathy says:

        Thank you! Hoping I can find time to make this today for my friends coming tomorrow.

        • Cathy says:

          I made these this morning, minus the oat flour since there was not enough time to whiz our oatmeal into a flour. They were delicious, everyone loved them. They got into them before the main course:-)
          I look forward to making them with the oat flour next time.

  30. I think I might get stuck just standing there smelling the intoxicating sugar and perhaps never get to making the cookies although they sound awesome!

    • Sue says:

      I am totally hooked on the sugar, and it really does keep the flavor and scent even after baking. I’m going to try other citrus, too. It’s a great way to infuse citrus into baking – even better than using extracts!

  31. Kathleen says:

    This looks truly incredible! I love the addition of lemon. I can still remember my Grandmas special tin she always kept shortbread in!

  32. Scottish Shortbread is one of my favourite treats. Can’t wait to try your lemon version (and I too love when recipes have melted butter! Never have to remember to take butter out to soften ahead :)

  33. Monique says:

    I am certain you have another sure for shortbread winner here.
    We’re lucky you love to experiment and take pics.

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