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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    Leave a Reply

    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    August 30, 2016 at 2:21 am

    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! (:

    • Reply
      August 30, 2016 at 7:46 am

      How nice, thanks Laura.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    August 11, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    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!!

  • Reply
    May 14, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      May 14, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      I’m so glad to hear it Patti — I’m just working on another variation coming out next week!

  • Reply
    Barbara Jean
    April 25, 2016 at 10:39 am

    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?

    • Reply
      April 25, 2016 at 10:42 am

      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.

  • Reply
    Robin @ A Shaggy Dough Story
    March 3, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    March 29, 2015 at 10:59 am

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

    • Reply
      March 29, 2015 at 11:08 am

      They’re soooo good, Susan 🙂

  • Reply
    March 28, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    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! 🙂

    • Reply
      March 29, 2015 at 7:41 am

      Thanks Betty – ours went pretty fast!

  • Reply
    Jean |
    March 27, 2015 at 7:55 am

    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!

  • Reply
    March 27, 2015 at 7:50 am

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

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