Scottish shortbreads

In Scotland, butter is one of the ingredients that are used generously! The result is shortbread, a unique, gourmet cake that's perfect for tea-time!

Scottish shortbreads
Scottish shortbreads - © Tavan

Shortbread is an iconic Scottish cookie, prized for its unique texture and rich, buttery flavor. It’s traditionally made up of three essential ingredients: flour, sugar and a generous amount of butter. This simple combination results in a cookie that is both crisp and melt-in-the-mouth, a distinctive feature of shortbread. A delight to be savoured with a hot cup of tea, but be warned: this pleasure is quickly addictive!

History of shortbread in Scotland

A cookie from the Middle Ages

Shortbread, with its rich buttery flavor, has a long history in Scotland, dating back to medieval times. Initially, it started life as a “bread cookie” made from dried, oven-hardened leftover bread dough, sweetened and spiced to enhance the taste. It was in the 16th century that shortbread began to take on its current form, with the addition of butter, an ingredient then considered a luxury.

The shortbread’s association with Scottish royalty, notably Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, in the 16th century, greatly contributed to its popularity. The queen is often linked to the popularization of a shortbread variant, Petticoat Tails, which are circle-shaped cookies cut into triangles. These cookies have become a staple of Scottish celebrations, especially at Christmas and New Year’s Eve (Hogmanay), when offering shortbread has become a tradition.

Over the centuries, shortbread has evolved and gained in popularity, not only in Scotland but all over the world. It comes in a variety of shapes and recipes, but always retains its distinctive character: a shortbread texture and a rich, buttery taste. This cookie symbolizes the simplicity and elegance of Scottish baking, and continues to be a favorite at family gatherings and special occasions.

Composition and taste of shortbread

Shortbread is notoriously heavy!

Made mainly from butter, flour and sugar, it’s still delicious! For the Scots, it’s precisely because it’s so high in butter and sugar!

Butter, an essential ingredient, gives shortbread its melt-in-the-mouth texture and distinctive aroma. Flour adds the necessary structure to the cookie, giving it its crisp, shortbread texture. As for the sugar, it adds a touch of sweetness and also contributes to the final texture of the cookie.

In the mouth, shortbread offers a unique experience: crisp on the first bite, then melt-in-your-mouth thanks to the richness of the butter. The taste is subtly sweet, enhancing the buttery flavor without being excessively mild. This combination of shortbread texture and rich, buttery flavor makes shortbread a particularly popular cookie, often associated with moments of relaxation and conviviality. Its simplicity makes it a classic Scottish pastry, appreciated for its ability to accompany both a cup of tea and a festive occasion.

Where to find shortbreads in Scotland

In Scotland, shortbreads are extremely popular and widely available. You can find them in a variety of places:

  1. Local bakeries and patisseries: Many of Scotland’s traditional bakeries make their own shortbread, often using family recipes handed down from generation to generation.
  2. Markets and Fairs: Local markets and fairs in Scotland often offer a selection of home-made products, including shortbread, which is frequently sold by local producers.
    1. Supermarkets and grocers: You’ll find a variety of packaged shortbreads in almost every Scottish supermarket. These versions can vary in quality, but some brands are renowned for their excellent quality. Special mention for the “Walkers” brand, which, although industrial, is a must-have!
  3. Souvenir stores: Shortbreads are a popular souvenir for tourists in Scotland. You’ll find them in many souvenir stores, often beautifully packaged in decorative tins or tins.
  4. Whisky distilleries: Some distilleries offer shortbreads as an accompaniment to their whisky tastings, as they go well with spirits.
  5. Tearooms and cafés: Many tearooms and cafés in Scotland offer homemade or artisanal shortbreads, perfect with a cup of tea or coffee.
  6. Online Shops: If you can’t make it to Scotland, many Scottish stores sell shortbread online and can ship internationally.

Scottish shortbread recipe