Sunday, July 15, 2012

Shortbreads for Tea

Although there are many wonderful cookies for tea, I think that when I think of the perfect tea cookie I think of shortbread. This delightful cookie originated in Scotland, and to this day the leading product for export in Scotland is Walker's Shortbread. A famous Scottish chef once said that shortbread is 'the jewel in the crown" of Scottish baking.

Shortbread is a small cookie (also called a biscuit) that is crumbly and tender due to it's high fat content. Traditionally shortbread consists of one part sugar, two parts butter, and three parts plain white flour. Flavorings like salt or vanilla are added in varying amounts depending upon the taste and desire of the baker.

Once baked, shortbread should be light in color and not browned at all. Upon completion it should be removed from the oven when yet a nearly white or light golden brown. A trifle of tan on the bottom is all the color that should be observed in this traditional cookie. They need to be watched carefully during the last few minutes of baking.

Shapes of shortbread vary, but generally are formed into one of three forms: wedges, circles, or fingers. For special occasions they are sometimes made into stars or flowers for added appeal. Because they hold their shape well due to their stiff dough, they can easily be decorated by poking with the tines of a fork or by pressing a pattern into their tops before baking. Some bakers sprinkle sugar on them for added sweetness.

Because shortbread is made without eggs or dairy, it is a good cookie to convert to vegan simply by substituting vegan shortening (butter flavored) for the butter. Gluten free versions are also reasonably made by using cornstarch or white rice flours along with a gluten-free flour blend. By the way, even traditional cookies which contain wheat benefit from the substitution of white rice flour for a portion of unbleached wheat flour. It makes a delightful cookie with a great texture and lightness. 

Perfect for tea, shortbread is a little cookie that might look plain and simple, but it's tender, melt in your mouth sweetness is pure delight!

Here are a few of the shortbread cookies I've collected over time. I hope you enjoy them! 

Scottish Shortbread

1 lb. butter, softened (vegan shortening may be substituted)
1 cup sugar, extra-fine
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white rice flour
powdered sugar

Cream the butter (or shortening) until smooth. Slowly add the sugar, mixing as each addition is made. Then sift in the all-purpose flour and white flour. Mix only until blended.

Roll the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap so that it is 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Cut dough into desired shape. Place cookies on baking sheet and poke with the tines of a fork. Bake at a 325 degree F. oven for 5 minutes. Then at 300 degrees F. fr 15 - 20 minutes more. Watch carefully so they do not brown.

Canadian Oatmeal Shortbread

1 cup margarine (non-dairy) or vegan shortening
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
2 cups rolled oats

Mix margarine, brown sugar, and vanilla until fluffy. Blend flour, soda and rolled oats. Stir into margarine mixture. Chill 1 - 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough 1/2 inch thick on lightly floured board. Cut into squares or fancy shapes. Bake on ungreased baking sheet for 10 - 12 minutes. Makes 3 1/2 - 4 dozen cookies.

Teatime Shortbread

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup sifted confectioner's sugar
1/2 lb. vegan shortening or Earth Balance 
2-3 drops butter flavoring

Sift flour, cornstarch and confectioner's sugar into a bowl. Add the shortening and rub into dry ingredients. Gradually mold mixture to a soft dough. Kneed Well. Roll out until about half an inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut into shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake at 310 degrees F. for 30-40 mins or until pale brown.

Thyme & Pine-Nut Shortbread

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup Sucanat (or brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves, dried and crushed
1/2 cup margarine (non-dairy) or vegan shortening

Toast pine nuts in a hot skillet until gently browned. Then place in a food processor and process until finely ground. Pour into mixing bowl and combine with flour, sugar, and thyme. Add margarine and mix until soft crumbs result. Shape dough into a ball. Using a 1 Tbsp. scoop, shape dough into small balls and place on baking sheet. Then flatten t 1/2-inch thick by pressing with the bottom of a small glass that's been dipped in sugar. 

Bake at 325 degrees F for 15 - 20 minutes.

Shortbread Crumbles

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup almond or cashew butter
1/2 cup carob chips, optional
1/2 cup dried fruit, optional

Mix ingredients except carob chips and dried fruit together, cutting in the nut butter last. Add a small amount of water, one teaspoon at a time, to moisten if needed. Add carob chips and dried fruit. Press into a prepared 8" x 12" pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. This makes a crumbly bar-type cookie. Chocolate chips can be used to replace the carob chips if desired.

*For gluten-free options with any of these recipes, replace wheat flour with a gluten-free flour blend of choice. Butter can replace the vegetable 'fat' option in the recipes above as well for a more traditional approach to shortbread. Vegan alternatives for 'fat' in shortbreads are Spectrum shortening, Earth Balance, and coconut oil (solid form).

Photo: cabin woods; teapot by Susan Branch; teacup by Royal Doulton; crocheted table topper made by Aunt Evie.


  1. Ahh the perfect treat with a nice cup of tea...

  2. What a lovely table outdoors - and great gluten-free tips!

  3. What a fun variety of shortbread recipes!

  4. I do enjoy shortbread with tea. Love your photo too.

  5. I will have to try a vegan version! We're not 100% vegan, but like to eat predominantly in this way.

  6. Anonymous3:28 AM

    Beautiful photograph, as always. I love shortbread! And there is nothing like that 'just right' recipe that truly does melt in your mouth.

  7. I adore a good shortbread and when I find Walker's, I buy a package. Sometimes I can find some at TJMaxx.

    Lovely little scene out there in the forest...

  8. Oh such lovely recipes. My hubby loves shortbread as he's not much on sweets. Beautiful pix.

  9. Oh I will have to try these!! What a fun post!!!

  10. These sound delicious and I cannot wait to try them. I have just discovered your lovely blog after being directed here by a friend of mine. She said you had lots of vegan recipes and were in the PNW. I'm vegan and am moving from Louisiana to the Seattle area!


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