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Shortbread - A Brief History

Scottish Shortbread

“You can be miserable before you have a cookie and you can be miserable after you eat a cookie, but you can’t be miserable while you are eating a cookie.” – Ina Garten

Sometimes the little things in life are the most enjoyable, especially if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Something as simple as a spot of tea and a cookie can turn an afternoon around.

Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle … they come in many forms, but there is nothing as delicious as the tried and true, flaky and delectable shortbread. While it’s a type of treat you may associate with Christmas goodie plates, shortbread has a history as rich as the crumbly cookie itself.

Historians – and yes, historians care about the origins of cookies! – suspect that shortbread cookies date back to medieval times. Then, shortbread was a twice-baked bread roll of sorts, sweetened with sugar and spices.

However, like everything else, shortbread evolved over time. The leavening agents were replaced by butter, which was more expensive and made the biscuits – as they were called in Scotland – much more of a treat. There was even a government connection, as shortbread cookies with ginger were eaten during sittings of parliament, being called parliament cakes, or parlies. And they didn’t always end up in mouths, either. In Shetland, new brides would wear a veil of crumbs of sorts as it was tradition to break a decorated shortbread biscuit over their heads at the front door of their new homes.

Truly, it is Mary, Queen of Scots, who receives credit for the refinement of shortbread into what we know today. Sometimes seasoned with caraway, citrus or almonds, it was the inclusion of a large amount of butter that gave the biscuit its name. When it comes to pastry, “short” equals crumbly. And anyone who has eaten shortbread knows, the crumble is everything.

Shortbread is a much more common treat these days, and the cookie is a staple amongst professional and home bakers alike. In fact, the Duncan's Shortbread that we carry online and in-store is a best seller. Customers rave about the all butter shortbread, along with varieties featuring chocolate chip, raspberry & white chocolate, and chocolate and orange.

Rosemary Shortbread from food blogger Stephanie Eddy

½ cup unsalted butter softened

1/3 cup (45g) icing sugar

½ tsp finely chopped rosemary

1 ¼ (195g) cup flour

¼ tsp salt


1. In a medium bowl, stir together the softened butter and 1/3 cup icing sugar until completely combined. Stir in the rosemary until evenly distributed. Add the flour and salt to the bowl and stir until the mixture looks crumbly. Use your hands to squeeze the mixture into a ball which will help bring it all together and ensure that there is no flour left unmixed into the butter.

2. Place the dough in the bottom half of a large freezer bag. Fold the empty half over the dough half and use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to an even height. Place the dough in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up.

Preheat oven to 350

3. Remove the dough from freezer and freezer bag and slice into 20 cookies. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until the edges are starting to turn golden. Allow the cookies to cool on a wire tray before serving.