When looking into Scottish recipes to make at home I was amazed to find that you can make traditional Scottish petticoat tails shortbread recipe with only 3 ingredients, so I had to give it a try!
Shortbread is traditionally associated with Scotland, and although the original recipe often only calls for three ingredients, more modern recipes have changed that up a bit. It was also made as one round large cake or that was cut after baking into “petticoat tails”, rather than being baked as separate shortbread cookies/biscuits like many recipes today are.
Shortbread is something we always had about the house at Christmas. My Mum often made a batch or we would buy it in Christmas tins with Scottish themes. I was excited to give making shortbread a go for myself!
It took me a couple of tries to get it right, so below I’ve detailed some of my best facts, tips and methods for getting this petticoat tails shortbread recipe right the first time, followed by the recipe in full at the end of the post.
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Why is it called shortbread?
“Short” refers to an old word meaning a crumbly texture in cooking and baking, and it’s the large amount of butter used that makes it this way. For example, there is also shortcrust pastry that’s made with lots of butter.
Shortbread was originally called “biscuit bread” as it was made from leftover bread dough that would be dried out in the oven. Thankfully, over time butter replaced the yeast and what we now know as delicious shortbread was born!
Is shortbread Scottish?
Although “Biscuit Bread” was made all over the British Isles from about the 12th century, it was Mary Queen of Scots who popularised shortbread in the 16th century and in particular, the petticoat tales shortbread I’ve made in this recipe.
They’re thought to be called petticoat tails because the triangle biscuits resemble a petticoat! Other traditional shortbread shapes include “rounds” which are individual biscuits cut from a log of shortbread dough and baked separately, and fingers which are cut from a large square or rectangle after baking.
When shortbread began to be exported around the world, Scottish shortbread was some of the finest and it has become synonymous with Scotland.
Because of the amount of butter used to make shortbread it was, at first, usually only made for special occasions like weddings, Christmas, or Hogmanay (Scottish New Year). If you ever visit Scotland at Christmas you’ll still see shortbread tins for sale in abundance! But now you can enjoy it all-year-round with this recipe too!
Ingredients for this easy shortbread recipe
This petticoat tails shortbread recipe uses only 3 ingredients! Flour, butter, of course, and caster sugar in a 3:2:1 ratio. Essentially, you need about three parts flour, two parts butter, and one part sugar.
You’ll find that all shortbread recipes use these three ingredients as their base, but from there they can be varied depending on the texture or flavour that they’re trying to achieve. I’ve decided to keep it simple this time but I can’t wait to try some variations in the future! Including a caramel shortbread recipe I’ve spied in an old recipe book we found…
All-purpose plain flour is the basis of a shortbread recipe. However. instead of using 100% plain flour you might like to substitute about a third of it for cornflour. This will make the final biscuit more crumbly. Some people also use rice flour instead of cornflour.
Both of these options can help the shortbread to hold its shape more, which is important if you want to cut it into shapes to be baked individually.
Using a finer textured sugar is best for shortbread, which is why the recipe calls for caster sugar. If you can’t get this then it is possible to blitz regular sugar in a food processor to make it finer.
You can also substitute all or part of the sugar for icing sugar/powdered sugar, which is often done in more modern recipes. This gives the shortbread a softer texture.
The unique and moreish taste of shortbread comes primarily from the butter, so using a good quality butter is a must! It’s up to you whether you prefer to use salted or unsalted butter.
Personally, I like the slightly salty taste salted butter provides and I also add a pinch of salt to the recipe to help bring out the flavour. This is obviously to taste though, you can use unsalted butter and just add a little salt yourself if you require it, or none at all.
For this bake I wanted to stick to a traditional three-ingredient shortbread recipe, I find it’s better to discover and learn a recipe in its original form and then enjoy making variations to it at a later date!
After some research, I found the most traditional shortbread recipes called for only plain flour, butter, and caster sugar in the 3:2:1 shortbread recipe method.
The first time I made the recipe I used “cups” for the measurements rather than grams, which made a buttery soft and delicious shortbread.
The second time around I tried it with grams (300:200:100) and although this also worked and the shortbread kept its shape and design a little better, I would say that somewhere between the two is the perfect mix!
That’s why you’ll find the recipe card below says 200-225. The easiest way to figure this out is to cream 225 and then remove a little (a couple of tablespoons should do it) to set aside and only add back in if the mixture is really dry.
How to make this petticoat tails shortbread recipe
Below are a few tips and step-by-step photos that will help you get the perfect shortbread rounds and petticoat tails!
The biggest issue with shortbread is that it will spread in the oven and not retain its shape. While shortbread without a pretty design on the top will taste just as good, it may not look quite as impressive and after all, we do eat with our eyes first!
All of the below steps will help you to get a final product that looks as good as it tastes!
The first step is creaming the butter, and right from the beginning, you want to make sure that you don’t incorporate too much air into the mixture or else it will spread more during baking. Beat the butter until just creamy, but not fluffed up.
The second step is adding the sugar, and salt at this point if you want to as well. Once again, delicately mix in with minimal effort until only just combined. The sugar should dissolve slowly into the butter, which is why using a fine sugar is best.
Thirdly, add the flour. Make sure you mix the flour in with as little effort as possible until it’s just combined and has formed clumps. If you’re using a mixer you should use it on as a low a setting as possible, better still do this by hand.
From this point, it’s time to get your hands dirty! Use your hands to bring the dough together, but don’t over-work it. You’re not making bread!
Just gently fold it together and then tip out onto your worktop or board.
Now use a rolling pin to get it roughly to the shape of the tin you’re going to use. To make petticoat shortbread its best to use a round tin, but if you don’t have one you can use a square tin and will have shortbread squares instead!
If you decide you want to make separate shortbread cookies/biscuits then you can roll out the dough and use a cookie cutter to make the shapes, but I prefer to keep the shortbread together and slice after cooking in the traditional way.
I used an 8inch circular tin to make my shortbread round, which gives you quite a thick biscuit at around 1 inch. If you use a 9-inch tin then you’ll get a slightly thinner biscuit.
Once you have roughly shaped the dough into a round you can press it into the tin. There’s no need to grease the tin because of the amount of butter in the shortbread already. Try to ensure the mixture is the same thickness across the tin.
Throughout this whole process remember you should be working/handling the dough as little as possible!
Now you can add a design to the top of the shortbread. I pressed my forefinger and middle finger into the outside of the dough around the edge to provide the frills to my petticoat so to speak!
I then sliced it with a knife into 8 pieces and pricked each with a fork. You can use a toothpick too.
To stop the dough from spreading while in the oven you should now chill it for at least 30 minutes in the fridge. This especially applies if you’ve cut the shortbread into separate cookies! In that case, you should also put them on a chilled tray for baking, and bake at a slightly higher temperature to minimise spreading.
For the petticoat tails shortbread round you need to bake it for a long time at a low temperature. Depending on the tin size you use you’ll need around 45-60 minutes. They should just start to brown lightly on the top. I let this batch go just a tad too long, unfortunately!
When you take the shortbread out of the oven immediately run a knife along the previous cuts, and if you like you can re-use the fork to make the holes a little more pronounced as well. Leave the shortbread to cool in the tin and then carefully separate out into individual “petticoats”!
And it’s as simple as that, all you need now is a nice cup of tea to enjoy it with!
How long does homemade shortbread last?
You can keep homemade shortbread for up to 4 weeks in an airtight container. Although ours has never lasted that long!
Variations to this basic shortbread recipe
There are a few things you can do to change up this traditional shortbread recipe if you like. As previously mentioned, you could try to substitute part of the flour for cornflour, rice flour, or even almond flour. You can also substitute the caster sugar for powdered sugar.
Adding nuts or a flavouring to your shortbread is also possible. Mary Queen of Scots liked hers with caraway seeds! Add essence to the butter when you add the sugar.
And finally, you can also dip your shortbread in chocolate for a little extra indulgence.
I really hope you like my shortbread, do share a picture with me if you decide to make this tasty treat, I’d love to see how yours turned out, remember don’t leave it in the oven too long like I did!
- 300g Plain Flour (2 Cups)
- 200g-225g Butter (1 Cup)
- 100g Caster Sugar (1/2 Cup)
- Pinch of salt (optional)
- Place the butter in a large bowl and mix until just creamed but not fluffy
- Add in the sugar and pinch of salt (optional) and mix until just combined
- Add the flour and mix slowly until clumps are just formed
- Use your hands to gently fold the mixture into a ball, taking care to work the dough as little as possible
- Tip onto your benchtop and use a rolling pin to help roughly shape it into the size of your tin (see recipe notes)
- Press into the tin, cut into 8 slices and create a design on top with your fingers and a fork/toothpick if you like
- Chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge, preferably one hour
- Bake at 160C or 325F in a pre-heated fan assisted oven for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the tin. The shortbread should be lightly browned when done.
- Remove from the oven and run a knife along the previous cuts while it's still hot. Remove the edge of the springform tin and allow to cool before removing from the bottom.
The amount of butter needed depends on the quality and how much you handle the mixture. Start with approximately 200 grams but if the mixture seems dry you may need to add a little more. It's easiest to do this by creaming 225 grams and then removing a little to set aside in case you need it.
We like our shortbread with salted butter to add a little bite but this is optional.
For shortbread petticoat tails a round tin is preferable. Use an 8-inch tin for 1-inch thick shortbread or a 9-inch tin for a slightly thinner biscuit. If you don't have a round tin you can use square and cut into squares. A springform tin is best because this allows you to remove the sides and then carefully take the shortbread off the bottom of the tin piece by piece.
Take care not to mix or handle the dough too much at any point and chill for at least 30 minutes before baking to avoid the dough spreading during the baking process.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 364Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 54mgSodium: 178mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 1gSugar: 13gProtein: 4g
The nutritional data in this recipe is provided by a third party and these values are automatically calculated and offered for guidance only. Their accuracy is not guaranteed.