These Simply Perfect Crispy Scottish Shortbread use just 4 simple ingredients, for a lovely tender-crisp shortbread cookie.
I think when it comes to Christmas cookies, a Shortbread cookie is almost always somewhere in the mix.
There are so many variations of shortbread, all delicious and everyone has their favourite - from the light and sweet whipped shortbread, to the easy dropped shortbread cookie. Then there's the less sweet, classic British shortbread, that are rolled and cut and left to "age". And finally, there's my personal favourite - the Scottish Shortbread.
For me, there's just so much to love about Scottish Shortbread. I love the thick cookie sticks, with it's sandy texture and touch of crisp. They also tend to fall right in the middle on the sweet scale, which is just perfect for me.
I've made many, many batches, searching for the best Scottish Shortbread and this is where I have settled. Adapted from Michael Ruhlman, this recipe uses just 4 simple ingredients - all purpose flour, rice flour, good butter and sugar.
Beyond the simple ingredients, I use a bit of a unique twice-cooked cooking method that ensures a lovely tender-crisp finished texture.
These cookies can be enjoyed on the day they are baked, but they only get better with each day that passes, so they are perfect for making ahead.
The most important variable I found with my many batches of shortbread was in the butter. Less expensive/lower quality butter contains a lot more moisture and will result in a more moist dough. And that's not really what you want with shortbread. While it will still work, the texture of the finished cookie will not be quite the same. So spring for the best butter you can find! (I used Stirling butter here).
You can use salted or unsalted butter here. The quality of the butter is the most important, so if it happens to be salted, that's fine. If unsalted, add 1/4 tsp salt to the dough.
If you like to experiment, instead of 1/2 cup regular white sugar, use 1/4 cup superfine white sugar and 1/4 cup regular white sugar. The superfine sugar does lovely things to the finished texture, though I found it a little too sweet when I tried all superfine sugar.
I think Rice Flour is quite easily found these days. You'll often see it in the Asian food section at grocery stores, or with the natural/gluten free foods. It is a low gluten flour, that lends a more tender crumb to the shortbread. If you can't find rice flour, you could substitute cornstarch (though I prefer the results with rice flour, so I think it's worth seeking out).
While I often bake with unbleached, all purpose flour, I like to use bleached all purpose flour for these cookies, as it makes for a lovely light coloured cookie.
Don't expect this dough to really "come together" as you are mixing it. It will and should be sandy, with small, even-sized pieces of butter. If you squeeze a small bit together though, it should clump (you can see a "clump" in the process photo below where it's dumped into the pan. That is a clump, not a lump of butter on top.) After adding to your pan, use your kitchen spatula to press down firmly into the pan. I've added some pictures just to assure you that yes, this is what it's supposed to look like :)
Again though, if your butter has a lot of moisture, your dough may be more moist.
For the final cooking period (with the oven off), leave in the oven for 30 minutes for crisp, but still light coloured cookies or 45 minutes for crispier, lightly golden cookies. I personally find about 40 minutes just perfect.
If you like, you can sprinkle a little white sugar on top of your cookies before the final baking.
As these cookies have a very fine texture, they are quite fragile and prone to breaking as you work through making them. If you are just making for yourself, no worries if one or two break, but if making these to gift, consider cutting smaller pieces (1-inch x 2-inch maybe), so they will be less likely to break.
If you find your cookie sticks break in the middle, you can often "repair" them before the final cooking by simply pressing the two pieces together well. They will often mend together during the final bake.
Simply Perfect Crispy Scottish Shortbread
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, measure with spoon and level method
- 1/2 cup rice flour
- 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
- 1 cup butter, cold, cut into about 16 pieces *See Notes
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square metal baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an inch or so overhanging the sides. Set aside.
- In a large bowl with an electric mixer or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the all purpose flour, rice flour and sugar. Add the cold butter cubes and mix on low speed for several minutes, until butter is broken down into small, even-sized pieces. Mixture will be loose and sandy, but if you grab a bit of it and squeeze it, it should form a clump.
- Dump mixture into your prepared baking pan. Using a kitchen spatula, press mixture firmly into the pan. (See process photos in Cook's Notes above).
- Bake in preheated oven for about 35 minutes or until set, but not browning around the edges at all. (If you dough was more moist, it may need a few more minutes in the oven, maybe 40 minutes). Remove from oven (*Leave oven on!) and let stand for 10 minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut (slowly and carefully), into 16 pieces (1-inch wide x 4-inches long). Using a fork, press fork twice into each of the "sticks", if you like, making sure to press right through the cookie to the bottom of the pan.
- Grab a baking sheet. Very carefully, using the parchment overhang as handles, lift the cookies out of the pan on the parchment paper. Set onto baking sheet with parchment paper still underneath. Using a fork, gently slide the cookie sticks apart, so there is a bit of space between each piece. *If a cookie stick breaks, you can often press it back together at this point and it will mend itself during the final bit of cooking.
- Return to the 350F oven, BUT IMMEDIATELY TURN THE OVEN OFF!. Let sit on the baking sheet in the still-warm oven for 30-45 minutes. (30 minutes for a lightly crisp, light coloured cookie or up to 45 minutes for a crispier, lightly golden cookie). Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Once cooled, store in an airtight container at room temperature. Cookies can be eaten right away, but they develop even more flavour as they sit, so don't hesitate to make ahead.
Nutritional information provided for general guidance only and should not be relied upon to make personal health decisions.