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.

3.50 from 107 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
    October 12, 2020 at 8:13 am

    5 stars
    We have an oat allergy in our house, how can I adjust the recipe to use wheat flour? thanks

    • Reply
      October 12, 2020 at 8:21 am

      Yes, for sure.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2020 at 9:38 am

    These are legit THE best lemon shortbread bars! We have tried several recipes and all were good, but none came close to this delightful lemony, buttery, Shortbread bars that just met in your mouth!

  • Reply
    Layla Wiltshire
    March 21, 2018 at 9:17 am

    I made these and they are super easy even having to make the oat flour and lemon sugar! So easy and so scrummy! Huge success! I have to say I put 5 lemon zest’s in two cups of sugar…but aware that we REALLY like lemons in this house (my daughter will just eat lemons! ? ? ?)
    Defo will be making again ??
    Thank you xx

    • Reply
      March 21, 2018 at 9:52 am

      Love to get this comment, Layla, because I adore this shortbread, I was just thinking about how I could make a sequel to it, with a different flavored sugar. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      • Reply
        May 20, 2018 at 2:47 pm

        Mine fell apart when I cut them. I did not have oat flour so I used 3 cups of reg flour. Any suggestions

        • Reply
          May 20, 2018 at 3:36 pm

          Shortbread is quite delicate Rosemary. Is it possible yours were still warm when you cut them? I do cut mine when warm, but I am very careful with them. It does tend to firm up as it cools.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2018 at 11:26 am

    My mother loves lemon anything and I think this would go lovely with a cuppa tea.
    I honestly just bit into a Girl Scout Cookie after I couldn’t resist any longer and was so disappointed! I think your lemon shortbread is just the ticket! I can’t wait to try this! Thank you for sharing. Do you think this would work with orange?

    • Reply
      January 23, 2018 at 11:27 am

      You know, I think orange is a great idea, Kat, I would definitely go for it.

      • Reply
        January 24, 2018 at 11:01 pm

        I will have to let you know as soon as I make them! Orange is my daughter’s favorite! Thank you

  • Reply
    October 16, 2017 at 10:52 am

    Did you know that processing sugar with citrus zest was an innovation developed by Cuisinart when they first introduced their food processors in the U.S.? And it works like a charm. I love a good, clean intense burst of lemon flavor. Two of my mother’s favorite foods are shortbread and lemons. She is 94, and blind with vascular dementia, and in a nursing home. There are so few pleasures left that she can experience. And shortbread made in a food processor is utter simplicity. Thank you for sharing this great recipe; I will bring these when I visit tomorrow. Just discovered your blog, and am enjoying it so much.

    • Reply
      October 16, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      I love this Susan, thanks! I didn’t know that about Cuisinart. I plan to experiment with lime sugar next, although I’m afraid it will be too bitter. And I hope your mom loves this shortbread, it sounds like a perfect fit for her!

      • Reply
        October 16, 2017 at 7:41 pm

        No, it won’t be bitter; it will be lovely. And if you taste it and decide that it is not sweet enough,you can give it another whirl with more sugar. This technique works for all the citrus fruits, except maybe clementines, which have a thinner skin, and which I have not tried yet. I automatically do this with all sweet desserts that call for citrus and sugar, just like I automatically roast all nuts before inclusion in a recipe.

        • Reply
          October 16, 2017 at 8:06 pm

          Roasting nuts makes SUCH a difference 🙂 I’ll try other citrus with sugar this winter for sure.

    • Reply
      Marina from Denmark
      January 18, 2018 at 4:50 am

      How interesting. I never heart of it but I do it all the time. I invented it in my own kitchen about 10 years ago because organic lemons used to be very expensive and in this way I could safe their peel much better. I usually do it with a vanilla bean. I use this in so many cakes and recipes. But of course someone else invented it to. It is usually that way with most things.

  • Reply
    Cyndi McConnell
    August 28, 2017 at 8:36 am

    I cannot WAIT to try your shortbread recipes with a great cup of coffee! I am super-excited to have found them! Signed up for your newsletter and I’ll Be Back!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

    • Reply
      August 28, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Yay Cyndi, welcome in 🙂

  • Reply
    August 1, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Just came across your recipe. Love making shortbread. I can’t wait to try it. My question is how do you store the left over sugar? I’d like to make it ahead of time to have on hand. Also, thinking of using limes and oranges to make sugars.

    • Reply
      August 1, 2017 at 10:34 am

      I would store it in the refrigerator, and only for a few days, because the essential oils from the lemon zest won’t keep for too long, I don’t think.

      • Reply
        February 10, 2019 at 11:00 am

        One can also dry the lemon zest separately for use later.
        I’ve used a Zester. But a peeler works, too and is faster.
        But caution: use only the outer layer.
        Avoid the white pith layer underneath as it is bitter.

  • Reply
    Terri Pringle
    December 18, 2016 at 12:23 am

    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 ?

    • Reply
      December 18, 2016 at 7:16 am

      No, sorry Teri, this is a softer type shortbread, it won’t work with cookie cutters. Check out my sugar cookie recipe, that might work for you:

    • Reply
      April 4, 2017 at 8:26 am

      When you make the lemon sugar and you measure the one cup of sugar and add the zest to the mixture than do you measure out a 1/2 a cup of the lemon sugar and add it to the recipe and then do you leave out the rest of the 1/2 cup of lemon sugar?

      • Reply
        October 16, 2017 at 11:05 am

        Natalie, not sure if I completely understand your question, but since it appears to have been unanswered, thought I would chime in if you have a very small mini food processor, you should be able to make lemon sugar in the specific amount called for in the shortbread recipe. I imagine that Sue’s little recipe for lemon sugar calls for making one cup because that is the minimum amount needed to infuse the sugar successfully in a normal sized food processor. You have to use enough sugar to engage the blade. There are a million delightful uses for left over lemon infused sugar, but if you don’t want to bother with left overs, just double the recope!

  • Reply
    Janice Farnsworth
    November 9, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      November 10, 2016 at 5:58 am

      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.

  • Reply
    Barb Cakebread
    October 28, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    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..

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