Everyone loves shortbread, but all too often we rely on the shop-bought stuff to get our fix. However, as these five delicious recipes prove, making the buttery biscuits is surprisingly easy – and you’ll satisfy every sweet tooth
If you’re the sort of person who enjoys a lively debate, then you’ll know that asking a British person about their favourite biscuit is always guaranteed to stir controversy. From digestives and Hobnobs, to Jammie Dodgers and Custard Creams, each biscuit comes with a horde of die-hard fans ready to defend its crunch, content and that all-important tea dippability.
But while convincing a biscuit fan of a different persuasion that your preferred variety is the best, there’s one variety that everyone can always agree is delicious: shortbread.
Whether the buttery biscuits make you think of Scottish grannies, school break times, or the tartan packets tucked away on train refreshment trolleys, there’s no doubt that shortbread evokes powerful memories. And even though the recipe has been around since the early 19th century, its ingredients list has stayed exactly the same over the years – and it couldn’t be simpler to make.
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Fans of traditional Scottish shortbread should defer right away to Flora Shedden’s recipes from Granny Joan and friend Angus, which have been lovingly passed down through the generations.
Thanks to the simplicity of the basic recipe, however, shortbread is easy to customise. If you’re looking for a modern twist, Katy Bescow’s lemon-infused shortbread recipe is ideal for summer, while the inclusion of olive oil makes it suitable for vegans, too. Sue Quinn’s chocolate-dipped shortbread, meanwhile, calls upon orange zest and caraway for vibrant, layered flavours.
And if you’re looking for a truly indulgent recipe, James Martin’s millionaire’s shortbread recipe, with its gooey caramel and chocolate topping, is the ultimate sweet treat.
All that’s left to do is brew the tea….
Flora Shedden’s Granny Joan's and Angus' shortbread recipes
Flora says: “I was never going to limit myself to only one shortbread recipe. These two are from the best bakers I know – you can decide which one you prefer. The methods are much the same; however, the resulting texture and consistency is different. My granny’s recipe is more akin to a traditional shortbread, the sort that a lot of people will associate with their granny’s. Hers tends to be quite crisp and is normally cooked a little longer than Angus’. She also uses the back of a fork to scratch a ridged surface on the top, which forms perfect little divots for the sugar to fill and cling on to. Angus’ has a far softer texture and more melt-in-the mouth consistency. To be honest, it was much too difficult a call to pick between the two, so I will let you make that decision yourself.”
- 140 g (5 oz/scant 2/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 280 g (10 oz) unsalted butter
- 425 g (15 oz/3½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 170g (6 oz/¾ cup) caster (superfine) sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 280g (10 oz) unsalted butter
- 280g (10 oz/2¼ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 170g (6 oz/1¼ cups) cornflour (cornstarch)
Preheat your oven to 140ºC (280ºF/Gas 3). Grease and line a deep, 23 cm (9 in) square baking tin.
For the shortbread base, beat the sugar and butter until pale and well combined – I find a hand-held electric mixer works best for this, but if your butter is soft, you can do this with a wooden spoon.
Once the sugar and butter mix is pale in colour, add the flour(s). Beat it again but only for a moment, until the mixture resembles sandy breadcrumbs.
Tip the mixture into the lined tin, pressing down very lightly so it becomes level. Bake for 30–40 minutes, or until pale golden in colour and cooked through.
Sprinkle with caster sugar immediately, then allow to cool for 15 minutes. Slice into your chosen shape, be it bars or squares, then cool completely before removing from the tin.
Extracted from Aran by Flora Shedden (£22, Hardie Grant), out now
Katy Bescow’s lemon and olive oil shortbread recipe
Katy says: “These crumbly slices of shortbread make the perfect biscuit to accompany a hot cup of tea. There’s no need for rubbing in vegan butter here; extra virgin olive oil is an unexpected and quite excellent replacement.”
Makes about 10 fingers
- 200g (7oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 100g (31⁄2oz) icing (confectioner’s) sugar
- zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, finely grated
- pinch of sea salt
- 80ml (3fl oz) good-quality
- extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3.
Mix together the flour, icing sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl. Stir in the sea salt.
Pour in the olive oil and stir to just combine, then use your hands to fully bring the mixture together. Don’t be tempted to add any additional olive oil – the mixture should come together when you squeeze it and crumble when you let go (that’s what will give it a short texture).
Press into a small, shallow baking tin, using your hands to pack the mixture tightly, then lightly prick with a fork in straight lines down the length of the pressed mixture.
Bake in the oven for 18–20 minutes until just starting to turn golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing into fingers with a sharp knife. Allow to cool fully before removing from the baking tin.
Don’t allow the shortbread to become golden in the oven – shortbread should remain pale. Just like any biscuit, it will harden as it cools.
Extracted from Five Ingredient Vegan by Katy Beskow (£20, Quadrille), out now
James Martin’s millionaire's shortbread recipe
James says: “For this recipe I have to thank KJ, the Head Chef and owner of the Mountain Café in Aviemore. Kirsten Gilmore is a long way from her native New Zealand but now has a reputation for food, service and kick-ass coffee (in her own words!) with an amazing view of the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland. You have to order the fish chowder and the sweetcorn fritters and, without a doubt, the best millionaire’s shortbread I have ever tasted. She kindly gave me her recipe, so here it is for you.”
For the biscuit base
- 300g salted butter, softened
- 200g dark soft brown sugar
- 350g plain flour
- 125g cornflour
For the caramel filling
- 1 x 397g jar dulce de leche
- 250g salted butter
- 150g caster sugar
For the topping
- 400g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
- 100g salted butter
Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan)/325°F/gas 3.
To make the biscuit base, put the butter, sugar and both types of flour into a large bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the other ingredients until the mixture looks really crumbly. Press the mixture into a 23 x 30-cm loose-bottomed cake tin (no need to line) and use a palette knife to even out the surface. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool in the tin on a wire rack.
To make the caramel filling, combine the dulce de leche, butter and sugar in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Whisking the mixture, bring to the boil (be careful as the mixture will be extremely hot).
Pour evenly over the biscuit base, cover and leave to set for at least 4 hours or overnight at room temperature.
To make the topping, put the chocolate and butter into a medium heavy-based pan and gently heat. Once everything has melted, whisk to combine. Cool slightly, then pour over the caramel and level with a palette knife. Cover, then leave to set overnight at room temperature.
Cut into 12 squares to serve.
Extracted from James Martin’s Islands to Highlands by James Martin (£25, Quadrille), out now
Sue Quinn’s chocolate-dipped orange and caraway shortbread recipe
Sue says: “Shortbread, generally, is delicious in its plain simplicity, but in this version, caraway adds vibrant flavour. It can be a pungent spice with a strong earthy taste and notes of anise, black pepper and citrus, but used with a light hand as it is here, it lends a gentle perfume to the soft buttery shortbread, and chimes beautifully with the orange zest. It also teases out the cocoa flavours in the milk chocolate –very moreish.”
Makes 12 shortbreads
- 335g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- finely grated zest of 2 large oranges
- 120g icing sugar
- 300g plain flour
- 75g cornflour
- 3 tsp caraway seeds
- generous ¼ tsp fine sea salt
- 300g milk chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas mark 2. Line the base and sides of a 20 × 20-cm / 8 × 8-in brownie tray or baking dish with baking paper, cutting slits in each corner so it fits neatly. Let the paper hang over the edges so you can use it as handles to lift the cooked shortbread out of the tray.
Beat the butter and orange zest together in a stand mixer or in a bowl with electric beaters until pale and creamy – this will take a good 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the icing sugar.
In a separate bowl, using a fork or balloon whisk, whisk both flours, the caraway seeds and salt together. Add to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until the flour is only just combined. Don’t overbeat or the shortbread will be tough.
Press the mixture evenly into the prepared tray and bake for 50–55 minutes until firm and the palest gold. Leave in the tray to cool completely.
When cool, lift out onto a chopping [cutting] board. You can cut the shortbread into whatever size pieces you like, but this is the way I like to do it. Using a serrated knife, slice the shortbread square in half and then cut each half into 6 fingers, roughly 10 × 3cm / 4 × 1¼in. The pieces might crumble, but this is the nature of shortbread – we’re not aiming for diamond-cut edges here. Transfer to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet or board.
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a bowl of barely simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. (Alternatively, melt the chocolate while keeping it in temper).
Spoon the chocolate over half of each shortbread finger. Set for at least 1 hour.
Extracted from Cocoa by Sue Quinn (£25, Quadrille), out now
Photography: Yuki Sugiura; Laura Edwards; Luke Albert; Peter Cassidy.
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.