Real Scottish Petticoat Tail Shortbread

Few things are better with a cup of tea or coffee than a wedge of butter shortbread. It’s also the perfect thing when you want something crisp to serve with a soft dessert like custard or ice cream. Shortbread keeps well and makes an excellent gift.

Because this one tastes mainly of butter, use very fresh butter. Traditional Scottish recipes don’t include salt—but they usually use salted butter. So I’ve added a tiny pinch of salt; without it, the flavor can be slightly flat.

This authentic Scottish recipe is from Nan Lang, who got the recipe from her mother, Mary Tennent, and sent it to Karyl Bannister’s Cook & Tell newsletter.


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) best-quality unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • Pinch salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly butter two 8-inch round cake pans; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a large wooden spoon. (Nan Lang notes that “this recipe must be mixed by hand.”) Work the mixture vigorously for about 5 minutes—this requires some muscle. Add the flour and salt, about ⅓ at a time, working in each addition thoroughly but gently. The last addition will make the mixture quite stiff; finish mixing with your hands, if you like.
  3. Press ½ of the dough into each pan, patting it gently into an even round with smooth edges. With the back of a spoon handle, press indentations around the edge of each round of dough. With the tines of a fork, gently prick both rounds of dough at regular intervals, pressing all the way through to the bottom of each pan. With a sharp paring knife, score each round into 12 even wedges.
  4. Bake until the shortbread is very pale gold—watch carefully, as it should not become too brown, 28 to 30 minutes.
  5. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. While the shortbread is still very warm, gently cut through the score marks with a sharp knife. Cool completely. Store the shortbread in the pans or in a tin, layered with wax paper and covered tightly. Shortbread keeps well and should be handled very gently to prevent shattering.