Scottish shortbread is a classic Scottish biscuit made with 3 ingredients: butter, sugar, and flour! This simple molded shortbread is the perfect holiday gift.
classic Scottish shortbread is nothing more than flour + butter + sugar
But baked up in a shortbread mold and topped with a sprinkle of sparkly sugar, what could be more festive? If you’re a friend of the Great Island kitchen you know shortbread is a specialty here. But most of my shortbread recipes lately have been flavored ~ think chocolate, strawberry, even spruce! So I thought I’d get back to basics with this class Scottish shortbread recipe that has no bells and whistles ~ just pure buttery deliciousness. It’s perfect for the holidays.
Did you know?
Shortbread is a centuries old traditional Scottish biscuit made from butter, sugar, and flour. In fact the first written recipe dates back to 1736. The ‘short‘ in the name comes from the baking term ‘short’ which just means it has a high percentage of fat. The ingredients are rubbed together to form a dough and then baked in pans, molds, or rolled out and cut into shapes. Wedges of shortbread like I’ve made are called ‘petticoat tails’ because they resemble the lacy edges of petticoats.
Shortbread is so gift-able
Although the ingredients are common everyday pantry items to us now, they were scarce and quite expensive in the past and so shortbread was originally a special occasions only treat. It’s been our family’s signature Christmas gift for as long as I can remember. I have fun developing a new flavor every year to keep it fresh. This year it will be this classic Scottish shortbread baked up in a mold.
Tip: If you’re planning to give shortbread as a gift it’s a good excuse to splurge on a premium butter ~ you can find lots of examples of specialty butters in stores, from imported European butters, cultured butters, and small batch local artisanal varieties. A great butter will shine in your shortbread and give it a distinctive flavor.
what you’ll need
- all purpose flour
- salted or unsalted, it’s your call.
- confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
- confectioner’s sugar gives the cookies a softer, melt-in-your-mouth texture. You can use granulated sugar for a crunchier, more crumbly cookie. In Scotland they would use ‘caster sugar’ which is equivalent to our ‘bakers sugar’ here. It’s sugar with a finer crystal.
- or other flavoring of your choice. You can use another extract like almond, or you can use a spice like nutmeg or ginger.
- an 8-inch shortbread mold ~ mine is from Brown Bag, and you can buy a similar one here.
the shortbread mold I use
My mold is from Brown Bag Cookie Mold Cookie Art company. It’s unglazed ceramic and is dishwasher safe. The designs for the molds are adapted from antique butter molds. This is the first time I’ve used a shortbread mold, and I’m happy with the results. The design is soft, but beautifully decorative. All the shortbread needs is a sprinkle of sugar.
how to make sure your Scottish shortbread releases from the mold
The nature of all shortbread dough is that it doesn’t spread in the oven, and so retains its shape well. This makes it perfect for stamping and molding. The only trick is making sure you can get your shortbread out of the mold!
- spray the mold lightly with cooking spray. That’s what I did and the shortbread came out easily.
- bake the shortbread in the lower third of your oven and make sure it is beginning to turn golden on top before removing it. You want to make sure the shortbread is fully cooked so that it will release cleanly from the pan.
- let the shortbread sit in the mold for 10 minutes after baking to allow the delicate cookies to firm up, then loosen the edges with a thin offset spatula. I like to place a large plate or board over the shortbread pan and flip both over in one swift motion. Then gently lift off the mold.
- If the shortbread does not drop out immediately, give the side of the mold a sharp tap against a firm surface.
Scottish shortbread FAQS
Can you use brown sugar for shortbread?
- Yes, brown sugar makes a delicious shortbread but I don’t recommend it when you are using a mold or a cookie stamp because brown sugar contains molasses which makes the cookie slightly softer.
Can I used gluten free flour?
- Yes, I recommend a good quality gf baking mix from King Arthur Flour or Bob’s Red Mill. The cookies won’t have the same texture, but they’ll be good. I don’t recommend using a mold or stamps with gluten free flours, though, they won’t hold the patterns as well.
What’s the point of pricking the dough?
- Pricking the dough allows steam to escape during baking, which helps the shortbread cook evenly and prevents it from puffing up. I have baked this shortbread without pricking and didn’t see any difference, so do as you like here.
Should I chill shortbread dough before baking?
- Follow the recommendation of your specific recipe. Sometimes it’s helpful and sometimes not. For this molded shortbread recipe I tried it both ways and didn’t see a huge difference. If you do chill the dough before baking you will need to bake it a little longer.
Can I make this shortbread dough in advance?
- Yes. After patting your dough into the mold, cover in plastic and refrigerate for up to 2 days ahead.
What if I don’t have a shortbread mold?
- You can bake this in a tart pan (with a removable bottom) or a cake pan. Shortbread can be rolled out and cut into shapes, or rolled into a log for slice and bake cookies.
Can shortbread be frozen?
- Yes it freezes beautifully. Pack it very carefully because it is fragile.
more shortbread recipes to try
- Lemon Shortbread
- Sparkly Strawberry Shortbread Cookies
- How to Make Pansy Topped Shortbread Cookies
- Chocolate Dipped Orange Shortbread Cookies
- Cranberry Orange Shortbread Cookies
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
- Double Dark Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
- 8-inch shortbread mold, optional You can buy them here.
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature (you can use salted or unsalted butter, it's your choice.)
- 1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract
- granulated sugar for sprinkling on the shortbread after baking.
- Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly spray your mold with baking spray.
- Put all your ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. You can also make this with electric beaters, or by hand with a wooden spoon. Blend everything together until there is no more dry flour left and the dough is starting to clump together.
- Pat your dough into your shortbread pan, getting it evenly distributed and making sure to pack it down well so it gets in all the nooks and crannies of the design.
- Smooth out the surface with an offset spatula. Some people find it helpful to use the bottom of a metal measuring cup to smooth out the dough. I find the best way to get shortbread dough really smooth is to lay a piece of plastic wrap over top and smooth it with the palm of my hand. The plastic works like magic to get the surface nice and smooth.
- Bake the shortbread for 30 minutes. It should just be turning golden along the sides. If the center still looks shiny or under-done, bake a few minutes longer. Shortbread is forgiving. A paler shortbread will be softer, while a darker shortbread will be crunchy, and both are delicious.
- Let the pan cool for 10 minutes, and then gently loosen the edges with a thin offset spatula. Place a baking sheet or board over the pan, and flip the whole thing over in one swift motion. Gently lift off the pan. If the shortbread does not release at first, give the side of the mold a sharp rap against a hard surface.
- Sprinkle the hot shortbread with a little bit of granulated sugar for a touch of sparkle. Slice your shortbread along the lines of the mold right away while the shortbread is still soft.
- Keep the shortbread in an airtight container.