Shortbread is generally associated with and originated in Scotland, but due to its popularity it is also made in the remainder of the United Kingdom, and similar biscuits are also made in e.g. Denmark, Ireland and Sweden. The Scottish version is the best-known, and Walkers Shortbread Ltd is Scotland’s largest food exporter.
Shortbread was chosen as the United Kingdom’s representative for Café Europe during the 2006 Austrian presidency of the European Union.
Scottish chef John Quigley, of Glasgow’s Red Onion, describes shortbread as “the jewel in the crown” of Scottish baking.
Shortbread is a classic Scottish dessert that consists of the three basic ingredients which are still commonly used today: flour, sugar, and butter. This dessert resulted from medieval biscuit bread, which was a twice-baked, enriched bread roll-dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a hard, dry, sweetened biscuit called a rusk. Eventually, yeast from the original rusk recipe was replaced by butter, which was becoming more of a staple in Britain and Ireland.
Although shortbread was prepared during much of the 12th century, the refinement of shortbread is credited to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century. The name of one of the most famous and most traditional forms of shortbread, petticoat tails, may have been named by Queen Mary. This type of shortbread was baked, cut into triangular wedges, and flavoured with caraway seeds.
Shortbread was expensive and reserved as a luxury for special occasions such as Christmas, Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve), and weddings. In Shetland, it is traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride on the entrance of her new house.