Scottish shortbread or Petticoat tails

Scottish shortbread, or petticoat tails as it is also known, is a delicious buttery treat that is very easy to make. It can be bought in tartan tins at Christmas time, but why not make it yourself? It is a lovely gift to give a friend or to have on hand to offer visitors when they drop in during the festive season. For gift giving, wrap the shortbread in cellophane and tie with a tartan ribbon.

This traditional Scottish shortbread is the one I have made every year at Christmas time for a very long time. I make it at other times of the year too. The recipe is from my treasured copy of “Forget-me-not” Biscuit Cook Book, A Collection of Good and Tried Recipes. 2/-. All proceeds to The New South Wales Society for Crippled Children.

Although this delightful little book doesn’t have a date inside, I think it was published in the late 1950s. My mother and I got our copies in the early 1960s. Even though mine has yellowed pages and is falling apart, I still use it often.

The shortbread recipe is easy to remember and change as you wish with the ratio of ingredients being, three, two and one, that is, three parts flour, two parts butter and one part sugar. Also, within the three parts of flour, you can use one third rice flour or fine semolina and two thirds plain flour. The rice flour gives the shortbread a grainy texture and the semolina makes it crunchy. Try the different flours to see which you like best.

This shortbread recipe was apparently Queen Victoria’s favourite recipe, according to my little book. Shortbread is called petticoat tails after the shape of the petticoat hoops worn by women in the 19th century.

Photography by Diana Lampe

Makes 24 pieces


  • 375g plain flour, or 250g plain flour and 125g rice flour or fine semolina
  • pinch of salt
  • 250g best quality butter at room temperature, cubed
  • 125g caster sugar or golden caster sugar for shortbread
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar to sprinkle
  • split whole blanched almonds or candied peel to decorate (optional)


  1. You will need two 20cm cake or tart tins preferably with a removable base. The shortbread can also be baked free-form on a lined baking tray.
  2. Place the flour in the food processor and give it a quick whizz; this is instead of sifting. Add the sugar (125g), butter and salt and process again until well combined. Alternatively work the soft butter into the flour and sugar with a wooden spoon. It should not be worked too much as this may make it tough. Turn the dough out onto the kitchen bench and bring together into a ball.
  3. Divide the dough into two pieces and place one in each tin. Gently pat down and press the dough with your fingers to fit the tin. It should be about 1 cm thick. Use a small glass jar to roll over and around the surface to make it even. Alternatively, pat or roll the balls of dough out on baking paper into two 20cm circles and slide onto a tray.
  4. Prick the shortbread on top with a fork as decoration and to stop it rising. If your tin isn’t fluted, press around the edge with the tines of a fork. Score the surface with a knife into 12 wedges. You can also cut a little circle in the middle, so that there are no points which may be damaged later when it is cut. Sprinkle the top with the extra caster sugar. Decorate with the almonds or candied peel if you wish. Chill for 15 to 20 minutes before baking.
  5. Preheat the oven to 150C regular. Bake the shortbread rounds for about 60 minutes until biscuit-coloured. Cool on a rack before removing from the tin. Cut into wedges where marked and store in an airtight tin. It keeps well for about a week or for longer in the freezer. Serve the petticoat tails with afternoon tea or as a dessert biscuit with fruit.



Shortbread can be shaped and baked in fingers; gently pat or roll the dough out to a thickness of 1cm and cut into fingers. Prick the fingers with a fork and sprinkle with caster sugar, place on a tray and chill for 15 minutes. Bake at 150C for 30 minutes until lightly coloured.


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