A History of Scottish Shortbread

Scottish Shortbread Fingers

Scottish Shortbread Fingers

While England’s culinary developments were influenced by the Romans, Scotland took pointers from the French, thanks to the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to a young French prince. The French are infamous for their skilful patisserie and Scotland embraced the art of baking whole-heartedly. The country is now especially revered for their baked goods, from oatcakes and ‘tattie scones’ to fruit cakes and,my all-time favourite biscuit, shortbread.

Shortbread began as a humble medieval biscuit bread made from odds and ends of leftover dough from bread-making. This dough was dried out in a low oven until it hardened into a ‘rusk’ – doesn’t sound very appetising does it?

Thankfully, over time, this biscuit has been made more luxurious, enriched with plenty of butter for a crumbly and rich treat. Originally eaten only on special occasions, such as at Christmas and New Years and at weddings, shortbread is now enjoyed all year round (although the elaborate tin boxes of shortbread, moulded into all manner of shapes and designs, remain a Christmas must-have in my family.)

The most traditional forms of shortbread are ‘rounds’, ‘fingers’ and ‘petticoat tails’ (a large round but into triangles; a form possibly named after Queen Mary of Scots herself). The addition of caraway seeds to the mix was popular in the 16th century. Lemon zest is another much-liked flavouring.

Did you know: 

  • In Shetland, it is tradition to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride as she enters her new home.
  • Shortbread was classified as a bread by bakers to avoid paying biscuit tax.
  • January 6th is National Shortbread Day.

I believe that there is no better match for your teatime cuppa than a sweet, crumbly and buttery shortbread biscuit. Here is a basic shortbread recipe.

Millionaire’s Flapjacks are a more elaborate celebration shortbread. Flapjacks are another classic Scottish bake. I have fused the two and added a little twist – here is my Banana and Honeycomb Millionaire’s Flapjacks recipe.


About SAFbakes

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