Scottish Shortbread Cookies – The Best Recipe

Shortbread cookies are a sinful, indulgent obsession of mine. Buttery and flaky, crisp and crumbly are the best. I’ve tried many recipes and finally settled on the recipe below. The recipe comes from a blogging friend who suggested I give it a try. The recipe comes from her Scottish grandfather.

The recipe immediately struck a chord with me due to its use of corn starch and a lot of it! I’ve never seen corn starch used in this manner and approached the recipe with skepticism.

The Shortbread Secret Ingredient

A reader commented on this post to give it even further legitimacy:

“I am both thankful and regretful for food blogs like this one. Thankful because I’ve taken so many amazing recipes from people all over the world. Regretful, though, because my own recipes which to this point have remained well-kept family secrets are being spread like viruses. Corn Starch in shortbread has been a vital, “secret” ingredient in my family’s recipe for decades.”

I decided to give it a try one afternoon and planned my day around baking the shortbread. The butter came to room temperature on the counter while  I left for a dental appointment. Somehow, I managed to tweak my back in the dentist chair and returned home to slowly lose the ability to turn my torso or neck without twinges of pain. Spinal issues would not come between me and baking. The show must go on!

To add one more challenge to my day, my printer wasn’t cooperating, so I had to scribble the recipe down on a post-it note. I love recipes that can fit on such a small square! It got me to thinking that maybe I should write a post-it note cookbook, filled with only those recipes that can fit on a 3″x3″ piece of paper!

Scottish Shortbread Cookies Recipe

Adapted from Geggie

1 cup sugar (granulated)
2 cups corn starch
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 lb. butter, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon sugar (granulated)

  1. Add sugar, corn starch, flour and salt to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Cut butter into tablespoon sized pieces and add to the bowl
  3. Using a spoon or your hands, mix the butter into the dry ingredients
  4. When the butter is fully integrated, the mix will be sand-like in texture. It will not form a ‘dough’. Pour the mixture into a half-sheet pan (18″ x 12″ x 1″), spreading evenly in the pan. Use your hands to firmly press down on the dough, pushing the fine mixture into an even mass.
  5. Using a fork, prick the cookies about 1″ apart across the entire top.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes at 325F, then reduce heat to 300F and continue baking for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown around edges and across the center.
  7. Remove from oven and sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon sugar. Cool for 10 minutes before cutting with a sharp knife. Let cookies continue to cool before removing (if you can resist).

Mixing the Ingredients

Since this recipe makes a large batch of cookies, start with a large mixing bowl. I didn’t do this and made a mess. The corn starch is the key to this recipe — I haven’t ever seen this before. It gives a lightness to the shortbread. It’s powdery so begin stirring gently or else you’ll be wearing most of it. (seriously, I made a big mess)

I quickly bypassed a spoon and dove into the ingredients with my hands. Just begin squishing and squishing the butter until it combines with the dry ingredients. Make sure to get any flour hiding at the bottom of your bowl. When you feel the ingredients are well integrated, then place the crumbly mix onto a baking sheet. I used a half-sheet pan and it fit perfectly.

Use your hands to push the dough into place. I found it hard to get an even surface so I busted out a small rolling pin to run over the top. Hopefully, Geggie isn’t cringing by this. As she notes, use a fork to prick holes all over the top. I assume this is to help release any steam from within the dough as it bakes.

Bake Low and Slow

Bake for 40 minutes at 325, then reduce heat to 300 and continue baking for 20 minutes. I baked as noted but mine took a bit over an hour. Likely, this was due to me peeking at them with the oven door open. I’m not patient. And, the smell is so amazing that you can’t help but to peek at what’s going on. When they came out of the oven I dusted with granulated sugar. I only waited about 5 minutes before trying to cut them and it seemed to work perfectly.

As the knife slid effortlessly through the shortbread it made the most joyous sound, you could hear the crisp layers of shortbread snapping under the weight of the knife. I tried to remain steady and calm but that wave of ‘oh, my god this is gonna be good’ kept wafting over me. Due to this, some of my lines aren’t too straight but that just gives it more character.

My past experiences with some recipes is that the dough doesn’t seem crispy or done all the way through. You’ll have crispy edges and top, but the center is less than desirable. Not the case here. You’ll notice how the golden brown color extends all the way through from top to bottom. These little guys are crisp and tender, buttery and rich.

Addressing Your Concerns

Readers sent a lot of emails and comments about this recipe, often with doubt. I have not tried this recipe with any substitutions or in other baking pans, so only do so with caution.

  1. The amount of corn starch looks insane. It’s accurate, try not to second-guess it.
  2. When mixing the dry ingredients with the butter, the end result will be a sand-like texture. Don’t expect it to form into a dough. As long as the butter is finely integrated and evenly mixed with the dry ingredients, all will be ok.
  3. This recipe is not appropriate for shaped cookies. You should plan to bake on a flat sheet.
  4. I baked in a half-sheet baking pan, which is 18″ x 12″ x 1″. The cookies were about 1/2-3/4″ thick. If you use a pan with high sides (like 3″), you may notice that the cookies do not get evenly browned/baked. A short-sided sheet will work best.
  5. Since the mixture is sand-like, pour it into your pan then spread into an even layer. Use your hands to press it down firmly and evenly.


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44 comments

  1. OH NO!!! Your injury has made your handwriting all grotesque and infantile!! Oh, wait… That’s how it is? Really? Huh. And I’m a doctor.
    Hee hee, I’m kidding as usual Allen.. (I hope it was obvious.) Your writing’s fine. You should totally sell that book idea. It’s printed on a post-it pad!!! Excellent! Too late, I just sold it to a publisher. Kidding! Just promise me it’ll not be some Sandra Lee-esque nightmare, with turning canned frosting into truffles or something. Those humps didn’t strike me as anything naughty till you pointed them out! In other news, that (authentic!) shortbread looks totally good, I don’t even think you should put strawberries or anything on it. Well done! (Well done, Geggie)

    I seriously hope your back and neck is feeling better.

  2. Great recipe! I think you’re right about the cornstarch. I had never heard of using it until I visited Scotland last Summer. Every time I had a great shortbread, I asked for the recipe. Every time, corn starch was one of the ingredients.

  3. I am both thankful and regretful for food blogs like this one. Thankful because I’ve taken so many amazing recipes from people all over the world. Regretful, though, because my own recipes which to this point have remained well-kept family secrets are being spread like viruses. Corn Starch in shortbread has been a vital, “secret” ingredient in my family’s recipe for decades. Thanks to the internet, everyone’s catching on! Sure, I’m happy the world at large gets to enjoy better shortbread, but damned if it doesn’t sting a little when I share some home-baked goods with a friend who quickly and flatly comes back with “Corn starch?”

  4. First, what a funny and entertaining post and I’m going to try it, for sure.

    Second, I can’t seem to get out of a dentist chair without feeling like I’ve been crippled. I don’t know what it is, something about the angle of that chair and having one’s pie hole yawned open for so long, pinches a nerve and causes agony. I feel your pain!

  5. kristofer: at least you can take comfort in knowing that your family had the inside track for so many years and that it’s a part of your family history.

    You’re right that the internet has changed how food and recipes change hands, I tend to find it exciting but I can see your point on how a little secret gets cast to a wide audience.

    So, what other secrets are hiding in your recipe box? :-)

    kate: thank you! fortunately, my back is feeling better today but still a few kinks — i’m glad that i’m not the only one who leaves the dentist this way. Next time I will protest when i’m asked to turn my head at some really strange angle to they can reach my molars. i’d rather my molars fall out than risk back trauma :-)

  6. Your descriptions of the cookies are as heavenly as the cookies look… Such a great, evocative post!
    I hope your back and neck feel better soon!

  7. Those look crazy delicious. I want some right now. I’m trying not to eat white flour or sugar right now so it’s kind of killing me to look at it…

  8. I have been on a quest for the best shortbread cookies for years. I made my brothers drop shortbread recipe last year and they are good, but I am always open to new possibilities:D

  9. I made these right after you first posted them. And they were that good.

    So I’m gonna go make some more. Right now.

  10. I stumbled on to your blog by accident in a quest for authentic shortbread. I made these last night and they are amazing! Thanks to you and Geggie for sharing. (I couldn’t get into her blog, so I was happy for your post-it… even without any instruction they were great!)

    I love the way you wrote your blog too. Very entertaining.

    purple_pjs

  11. Thanks for the note, Darlene — I’m so happy to hear they turned out for you! I’ve updated my post to remove the link to Geggie’s site and added an easier to read recipe.

  12. I am trying your recipe and it is in the oven right now! Smells soooo good. Didn’t use the rolling pin so the fork kept taking the dough with it until I laid some wax paper over the dough and poked holes with a toothpick. Trying not to peek!

  13. I want to make shortbread for my students (I have 167 high schoolers!) Hope they like ’em!
    How many squares does this recipe make?

  14. Are you sure it’s 2 CUPS of cornstarch and not 2 tablespoons?????

    I just made a batch with two cups and it tasted awful…I suggest you check your recipe again before someone else uses it and ruins a batch.

  15. Ally — this makes a half sheet pan, about 12 x 18 — so you can cut pieces into 3″ x 1″ which should yield you about 72 pieces.

    Karen/Jose: Yes, the recipe is correct (2 cups corn starch) and I just made it again last week for my neighbors.

    The cornstarch adds a finer texture to the cookie which yields a crisp/flaky cookie. As you’ll see in earlier comments, we discussed that the amount of cornstarch is the secret ingredient. I’ve found that I need to bake the recipe longer than 60 minutes in order to attain a likely golden color around the edges. The quality of butter can also change the flavor of these cookies. I didn’t use my normal brand of butter this last batch and it didn’t brown as nicely (i.e. color=flavor).

  16. Just curious, when you’ve indicated sugar in the recipe- did you use plain old white sugar? I have a similar old Scottish recipe and it calls for icing sugar. Can’t recall quantities, but wanted to compare. Thanks! I’m also going to make these cookies today. =)

  17. Cornstarch is the *secret* to a very fine grained and scrumptious shortbread. It’s just another term for corn flour-a very useful and often under-used item that probably is sitting right on your pantry shelf. It has many virtues-only one of which is giving shortbread it’s melt-in-your-mouth quality. However as Allen succinctly pointed out, the quality of the butter used will make or break the final flavor. ALWAYS use the very best quality available-NO scrimping on $$ here. In my area that would be Land o Lakes brand. I prefer to use sweet (unsalted) and add maybe a pinch-1/4 tsp salt to the recipe.
    Love the site!!
    Kimberly

  18. I’ve tried this recipe twice now. The first time I made it as directed and it is by far the best shortbread recipe I have tried! The second time, I started making it and realized that I only had three cups of flour. I was in too deep by then to turn back and didn’t feel like a list minute emergency trip to the grocery, so I used a cup of wheat flour. I have to say it was pretty good that way. I will probably do that again at some point.

  19. I made these again at Christmas to give to our neighbors and I still love this recipe. I’ve received more emails questioning the amount of corn starch and the recipe is correct. Remember, corn starch is just a fancy name for a fine corn flour.

    Laura — I used regular granulated sugar (not icing sugar).

    Jeff — I like your use of whole wheat flour (as it adds a little healthy aspect to an otherwise rich treat). I’ll have to try that soon!

  20. This recipe was horrible. My two year old spit hers out and said “custing” which means “discusting.” It was crumbly, not smooth. The flavor was fine, but the texture was awful. I have found much better recipes from cooks.com.

  21. Hi Amber,

    I’m sorry that you didn’t have the same experience as I and others have had with this shortbread recipe.
    While it doesn’t sound like you’d try it again, I would suggest making sure the ingredients are fully mixed (making sure it’s in a fine homogeneous mixture with absolutely no lumps) and then patting firmly into the baking sheet. And, the recipe should not be attempted with anything other than pure butter (no margarine or butter substitutes).

    For me, they turn out solid and delicious, as seen in the photos. My apologies to your daughter as well!

  22. Allen, Thanks a lot for posting this recipe. I tried it yesterday evening for a family get together and it turned out perfect. The texture was great. Everyone loved it. And for the first time my mum asked ME for a recipe!!!

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

  23. I’m going to give these a go; just one question though how thick should the dough be when you put it in the pan: half inch, inch or inch and a half?

  24. The shortbread came out great even at about 1.5 inches thick and about 2 hours of cooking. I was using a 9 inch quiche pan with the fluted edges and loose bottom with a hight of 2 inches. Family thought this was the best shortbread dad’s made for them yet! This recipe is a keeper.

  25. The wife is a shortbread junkie and is pretty picky about it. Having lived in England for several years, she knows what the good stuff is supposed to taste like. I made this recipe for her (cut in half, since I was a bit skeptical). Now she’s very happy. I’m happy. Fantastic. Thanks.

  26. i just finished making the shortbread and they came out perfeclty. but i think i will just use a tiny bit less corn starch. But its an excellent recipe Thank you very much.

  27. This is actually the shortbread recipe printed on the side of the box of cornstarch you buy in the supermarket – it’s traditional shortbread for my family, anyway. Perhaps it’s a Canadian thing…

  28. Just made these for Thanksgiving and they were awesome! Everyone loved them and asked for the recipe. They were very rich and buttery yet still light and flakey. Delicious!

  29. These are wonderful. I found that the longer these sit, say a couple of days, the crisper and better tasting they are. Thanks for the recipe!

  30. I am still searching for a really good shortbread recipe and this one seems to be it so will give it a shot. However, I was told that RICE FLOUR is the secret to a perfect shortbread. Made some last week using Rice Flour and it turnout out delicious so I must try your recipe Allen for a comparative analysis and will report back.

    Allen, your tips says dough not suitable for cutting shapes. I am however looking for a shortbread recipe you can make Chrissy shapes out of so I can give them at Christmas, any idea on improvising your recipe so they can be shaped, or perhaps someone out there can give me a recipe as good as Allens but that the dough can be shaped?

    BTW – you are so funny – loved reading your feature it was so entertaining and hope your back is far better. Have a wonderful Christmas. I have a website about to be activated so will let you know when it is up and running.

  31. Great recipe! I have to agree about that snap factor – as soon as I heard it I was in heaven.

    But I have a question. Even though I followed your recipe exactly, I had trouble when it came to cutting. The cookies cracked and crumbled quite a bit. I’d say twenty five percent of my cookies shattered. I was using a pizza cutter. I wasn’t being very forceful.

    Might you know why this happened and how I could avoid it next time? Thanks!

  32. Oh my! I made these last night to send to my dad(birthday gift), who LOVES shortbread, and these are PERFECT!!! (Of course we had to try them out!) THANKS SO MUCH for the recipe! A keeper for sure!

  33. I made these recently and shipped them to my dad for his birthday(he loves shortbread cookies). He absolutely loved them! I did too! They were so authentic and I loved the texture and crumb! Delicious and perfect! Thanks SO MUCH for the recipe!

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