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Not to be confused with Shortcake.
Fully cooked shortbread rounds on a baking sheet
Type Biscuit
Place of origin Scotland
Main ingredients Flour, butter, white sugar
Cookbook: Shortbread  Media: Shortbread

Shortbread is a type of biscuit (American English: cookie) traditionally made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour (by weight). The use of plain white (wheat) flour is common today, and other ingredients like ground rice or cornflour are sometimes added to alter the texture. Also, modern recipes often deviate from the pure three ingredients by splitting the sugar portion into equal parts granulated sugar and icing sugar (powdered sugar in American English) and many further add a portion of salt.

Shortbread is different from shortcake, which can be similar to shortbread. The difference is that shortcake can be made using vegetable fat instead of butter and usually has a chemical leavening agent such as baking powder, which gives it a different texture. Shortbread biscuits are often associated with normal egg-based biscuits, but they hold their shape under pressure, making them ideal for packed meals.

Shortbread originated in Scotland, with the first printed recipe, in 1736, from a Scotswoman named Mrs McLintock.[1] Shortbread is widely associated with Christmas and Hogmanay festivities in Scotland, and the Scottish brand, Walkers Shortbread, is exported around the world.[2]

Baking procedure[edit]

Shortbread is baked at a low temperature to avoid browning. When cooked, it is nearly white, or a light golden brown. It may be sprinkled with more sugar while cooling. It may even be crumbly before cooled, but will become firmer after cooling.


Shortbread fingers

Shortbread is traditionally formed into one of three shapes: one large circle, which is divided into segments as soon as it is taken out of the oven (petticoat tails, which may have been named from the French petits cotés, a pointed biscuit eaten with wine, or petites gastelles, the old French for little cakes[3]); individual round biscuits (shortbread rounds); or a thick (¾" or 2 cm) oblong slab cut into fingers.

The stiff dough retains its shape well during cooking. The biscuits are often patterned, usually with the tines of a fork before cooking or with a springerle-type cookie mold (U.S.)/biscuit mould (U.K.). Shortbread is sometimes shaped in hearts and other shapes for special occasions. The classic Girl Scout cookie "Trefoils" are shortbread in the shape of the Girl Scout trefoil logo.

Cultural associations[edit]

Shortbread is generally associated with and originated in Scotland, but due to its popularity it is also made in the remainder of the United Kingdom, and similar biscuits are also made in Denmark, Ireland and Sweden. The Scottish version is the best-known, and Walkers Shortbread is Scotland's largest food exporter.[4]

Shortbread was chosen as the United Kingdom's representative for Café Europe during the 2006 Austrian presidency of the European Union.

Scottish chef John Quigley, of Glasgow's Red Onion, describes shortbread as "the jewel in the crown" of Scottish baking.[5]

History of shortbread[edit]

This dessert resulted from medieval biscuit bread, which was a twice-baked, enriched bread roll dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a hard, dry, sweetened biscuit called a rusk.[6] Eventually, yeast from the original rusk recipe was replaced by butter, which was becoming more of a staple in Britain and Ireland.

Although shortbread was prepared during much of the 12th century, the refinement of shortbread is credited to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century.[7] This type of shortbread was baked, cut into triangular wedges, and flavoured with caraway seeds.

Shortbread was expensive and reserved as a luxury for special occasions such as Christmas, Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve), and weddings. In Shetland, it is traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride on the entrance of her new house.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hyslop, Leah. "Potted histories: shortbread" (6 October 2013). The Telegraph. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  2. ^ "Walkers: Is this Britain's best shortbread?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 18 February 2015
  3. ^ Jamieson, John (1825). A etymological dictionary of the Scottish language. University Press for W. & C. Tait. Retrieved 2009-05-29. 
  4. ^ "Scotland on Sunday - Business". Retrieved 2009-05-29. 
  5. ^ "Chef John Quigley discusses and bakes Scottish Shortbread". 2006-10-24. Retrieved 2009-05-29. 
  6. ^ "The History of Shortbread Cookies". The Nibble. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  7. ^ "History of Shortbread". English Tea Store. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  8. ^ Historic uk - heritage of britain accommodation guide. "Scottish Shortbread". Retrieved 2010-11-24. 
  9. ^ "History of Shortbread & Shortbread Recipes". Retrieved 2010-11-24.