Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread

Scottish shortbread made with lemony sugar

This unusual Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread is made with a fabulous sugar infused with lemon rind — the lemon flavor really pops! Make these classic lemon dessert bars for afternoon tea or everyday snacking.

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

This recipe also uses oat flour, which, if you’ve never tried it, is super easy to make at home in a food processor or a high speed blender. Check out my post on how to make your own oat flour for all the details.

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.

buttery soft lemon sugar shortbread

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.

3.49 from 106 votes

Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread

Author Sue Moran


  • 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)


  • Set the oven to 350F
  • 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.
  • Put the sugar into a mixing bowl and add the flour, oat flour, and cornstarch. Whisk to combine well.
  • Pour the melted butter into the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
  • 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.
  • Prick all over with the tines of a fork. Some people like to sprinkle the top with a little sugar, I didn't.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Cook's notes

recipe adapted from A Taste of Shetland
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.




Don’t forget to pin this Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread!

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  • Reply
    Tricia @ Saving room for dessert
    March 25, 2015 at 5:36 pm

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

  • Reply
    March 25, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    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

  • Reply
    [email protected]+Riffs
    March 25, 2015 at 1:50 pm

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

    • Reply
      March 25, 2015 at 2:10 pm

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

  • Reply
    March 25, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      March 25, 2015 at 2:13 pm

      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.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2015 at 11:29 am

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

  • Reply
    Cathy Yearwood
    March 25, 2015 at 10:27 am

    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.

    • Reply
      March 25, 2015 at 10:52 am

      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.

      • Reply
        March 26, 2015 at 10:33 am

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

        • Reply
          March 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm

          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.

  • Reply
    Chris @ The Café Sucré Farine
    March 25, 2015 at 10:22 am

    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!

    • Reply
      March 25, 2015 at 10:54 am

      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!

  • Reply
    March 25, 2015 at 10:09 am

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

  • Reply
    Jennifer @ Seasons and Suppers
    March 25, 2015 at 9:10 am

    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 🙂

    • Reply
      March 25, 2015 at 9:14 am

      I know, right? Melted butter rocks.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2015 at 8:54 am

    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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