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Saturday
Mar162013

Nana's authentic Scottish shortbread - an heirloom recipe

My mother's mother, whom we called "Nana," came to New York City from Scotland in the early part of the last century. Because she had such a dominant personality and a thick Scottish accent, I remember her much more clearly than my father's mother.

Nana had little nicknames for all of my siblings and me: Brian-me-boy (which she pronounced "buy"), Red Feather (for my sister Heather), I was Gale Girl (which I use as a screen name today), and Rossi Bairn for my brother Ross. We thought she was saying Rossi Bear and still refer to my brother Ross as "Rossi Bear" today because we were just silly American kids. 

While I was growing up, she came to visit our farm in Berks County regularly even though she and my father fought a lot. Because of the delectables and recipes she shared, sometimes it seemed we were like a little Scottish outpost situated in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Many of my memories of her revolve around food and tartan dresses. (Always tartan, never plaid, mind you. And let's not even get started about how most people mispronounce "Auld Lang Syne" by saying Syne as though it begins with a "Z".)

Nana's shortbread never looked fancy but it's the best I've ever tasted.In my previous post, I mentioned having received some heirloom recipes from my Scottish nana. So without further adieu, here is the recipe for my favorite treat Nana used to make--Scottish shortbread.

This recipe is the best in the world. Forget all those chi-chi shortbreads with rosemary, rosewater, and god-knows-what adulteration. This is the BEST recipe for authentic shortbread you'll ever find, and oh, so simple.

You can sort of hear my nana's personality in her recipe--she was a bossy one, that's for sure.  

My mother handwrote this recipe and gave it to me during my wedding shower in 1985:

Nana's Scottish Shortbread

1 lb. butter (no oleo)
1 full cup sugar
Cream butter and sugar. Then add 3 and 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time.

Mix well and knead thoroughly. Add more flour if needed. The more you knead, the tastier the shortbread will be.

Pat the dough into a round, square, or oblong pan (don't roll it or grease the pan; the dough is rich enough). Prick with a fork all the through, top to bottom,  in a design if you can.

If you like thicker shortbread, use an 8 x 8--just watch that the bottom doesn't brown. If you like it a little thinner, an 11 x 7.5 x 1.5 (deep) is ideal. 

Bake in 300 degree (very slow) oven for 45-60 minutes. Don't let shortbread get brown on top. 

Happy baking!

* * * 

And of course, no post about Scottish food would be complete without invoking Rabbie Burns' famous blessing:

Some hae meat

by Robert Burns

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanit.

(And the fact that I posted this the day before St. Patrick's Day would make my nana even happier. If you're not sure why that is, then you've never grown up with Scottish people.)

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Reader Comments (39)

Thanks to Joy , Jack the Baker, and Sheryl for stopping by. Hope all your shortbread turns out tasty!! Jack, you sound like quite the accomplished baker--thanks for the tips, too.

Joy, You are most welcome. Hope this rekindles some pleasant memories for you and that you have a wonderful holiday.

November 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterGale Martin / @Gale_Martin

We tried this shortbread today. It's very good! Thanks for posting the recipe!

~CHRIS

December 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cushman

Have just made these great short bread .gave some to my sister who is a great cook and she said they are the best.Thank you for the recipe

December 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRon slieker.new zealand

Great short bread my partner and my sister both loved it.Will be making this again before xmas and giving it away to my friends

December 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRon slieker.new zealand

Lovely to see what I'd call a proper Scottish shortbread recipe. It is almost identical to the "formerly secret" Huntley & Palmer recipe I use from a 1934 cookbook. I no longer like ordinary shortbread; I find it too sweet and too short, no substance to it!
There seems to be a controversy about kneading the dough - many recipes say it makes it tough, but my old book says the more kneading the better. And put the pans at the highest position in a very slow (250F) oven, baking for 3 or 4 hours. It works for me. Thank you for affirming the good recipe.

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEleanor Eastick

Glad to have your advice on temperature. I don't have my grandma's original recipe, but we ALWAYS had this at Christmas time. I'm making this year's batch. My grandmother's recipe (she was from Wales) was also limited to butter, sugar, salt, but her recipe called for more flour than yours (5 C). I've always made her recipe having learned the proportions of the ingredients at a young age, but have tended to bake it in too hot an oven. Glad to stumble across your recipe. Amazing how many of us have fond memories of grandma's (from somewhere in UK) shortbread!

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

10 12 14. Have just made these short bread they are just the best and so easy to make .my sister and partner just loved them thank you for sharing this recipe

December 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRon slieker.new zealand

Thanks ever so much for stopping in Chris, Ron, Eleanor, and David. I so enjoyed reading your comments! Merry Christmas to each of you, in your part of the world.

December 14, 2014 | Registered CommenterGale Martin / @Gale_Martin

I lived in Scotland as a child in 1963. We learned to make shortbread in home- ec class in grammar school. The ingredients are identical but the assembly was " a wee bit" different! We used our hands to mix the sugar and butter . We then kneaded in the flour 1/4 c at a time. We pressed the dough into a circle about 1/4" onto a flat pan. We pressed a fork around the circle about 1/2" apart. When done, we sliced into wedges. Oh so yummy!

December 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMerry

I lived in Scotland as a child in 1963. We learned to make shortbread in home- ec class in grammar school. The ingredients are identical but the assembly was " a wee bit" different! We used our hands to mix the sugar and butter . We then kneaded in the flour 1/4 c at a time. We pressed the dough into a circle about 1/4" onto a flat pan. We pressed a fork around the circle about 1/2" apart. When done, we sliced into wedges. Oh so yummy!

December 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMerry

Hello,

Every year for the holidays I make a round of my famous pecan lacey cookies (it's mutiny if I don't make these), along with some other treats I like to change up every year. This year, along with some turtle candies, I'm planning on trying your Nanna's shortbread recipe. I wondered what kind of sugar you use. I've read many recipes, some use confectioners sugar, others brown sugar and still others regular granulated sugar. What's your recommendation?

Thanks! and Happy Holidays!!! :)

Hillary (The Windy City)

December 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHillary

YES! A real authentic shortbread! I bought myself a mold several years ago with my beloved Scottish Thistle pattern, and I've yet to use it. Tomorrow is baking day! Incidentally, I was taught to cut it in the pan while still hot. I forgot once and couldn't cut it without it breaking into unattractive chunks. But it still tasted grand! My grandpa was born outside of Edinburgh, and came to the US as a child in the very early 1900's. This is a must do recipe for Christmas.

December 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

Hillary, I use granulated sugar in my recipe though I have seen some recipes with confectioners' sugar. My nana only had access to the most rudimentary ingredients growing up so that is why this recipe is so simple. Your pecan cookies sound delightful, btw. Happy, merry!

December 20, 2014 | Registered CommenterGale Martin / @Gale_Martin

I did not knead mine but patted in pan. I did not read carefully. In the oven now but seemed softer than I expected ( my fault ). Is it supposed to be soft.? How should it feel when done following your instructions exactly. ? I tried two different recipes as lost my Old Scottish recipe in moving. Both are softer doughs than mine. I will get back to you about this. Thank you so much for the recipe as it seems the closest to what I remember.

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBead

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