This recipe for Gran’s Scottish Shortbread is a classic on my Dad’s side of the family. Petticoat tails are a traditional type of shortbread baked in a pie plate and divided up into wedge-shaped pieces. These nice large shortbreads make wonderful gifts during the Christmas season.
Each of my grandparents has Scottish heritage, so we have a few different shortbread recipes in the family. Gran was a Walker, and although I have no idea whether she was related to the Walkers who make the classic shortbread, her golden buttery shortbread is a Christmas tradition here. This recipe for Scottish Shortbread Petticoat Tails is a household holiday favourite.
My Aunt Maggie learned to make this shortbread from our Gran when she was a teenager and taught our generation of bakers this weekend. She’s been making it ever since and has now passed it down to the next generation. We honour Gran’s memory each time we make her Scottish shortbread.
This recipe is delicious and simple but it does take patience. It’s not the kind of recipe you make in rush… it’s the kind of recipe you make with your family on a holiday afternoon with Christmas carols playing in the background. These shortbread petticoat tails are made the old-fashioned way… with a bowl and a wooden spoon. You could use an electric mixer if you’re not up for the workout, but my Aunt Maggie swears by making it the old-fashioned way!
How to Make Scottish Shortbread Petticoat Tails
Yield: 2 large shortbreads
Servings: 16 large wedges or 32 small wedges (petticoat tails shortbread cookies)
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Ingredients: Shortbread Petticoat Tails
- 2 and 1/4 Cups All-Purpose Unbleached Flour
- 1 Cup Regular Salted High-Quality Butter (at Room Temperature)
- 1 Cup Golden Light Brown Sugar, Well Packed (We used Rogers Golden Yellow Sugar)
- Whole or Slivered Blanched Almonds (optional – for decoration)
Supplies: Old-Fashioned Scottish Shortbread
- Glass Mixing Bowl
- Wooden Mixing Spoon
- 2 Metal Pie Plates
- Knife and Fork
Steps: How to Make Scottish Shortbread Petticoat Tails
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. If your oven runs hot, use 320 degrees (use a low oven for this shortbread).
- Cream the room temperature butter with a wooden spoon until it is creamy and lemony. It should have a smooth, soft consistency (almost whipped). This usually takes at least 5 minutes by hand. See photos below for example.
- Add the sugar to the butter. Cream the sugar into the butter using the wooden spoon. Mix until it’s well mixed. This will also take at least another five minutes. Mix a lot, until it’s smooth and creamy. Stop when you’re exhausted 😉
- Working in half cup increments, add 2 cups of the flour to the butter+sugar mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl as you go. Mix each 1/2 cup of flour into the dough completely before adding the next 1/2 cup. Once two cups of flour have been added, you can add up to an additional 1/4 cup of flour if the dough looks like it needs it.
- Knead the dough inside the bowl until it creates a ball.
- Pull the dough out of the bowl and knead it on the counter. Knead the dough on the counter until it “snaps”. This means to knead it until it pulls apart cleanly into two halves. It should even make a little suction sound (or feel like a little snap) as the ball pulls apart into two pieces. It does take a lot of kneading to get it to this point! You can’t over mix this shortbread. See the photos below for what the dough looks like as it snaps into two halves.
- Put each half of the dough into a metal pie plate.
- Slowly flatten the dough into each pie plate. Press it down and pat it until smooth (again, this can take a while).
- Cut the dough all the way through into pie slices using a knife. Cutting the shortbread into 8 pieces is perhaps more traditional, but cutting it into 16 pieces makes lovely mini wedge petticoat tails cookies.
- Use a fork to add holes through the shortbread. These deep holes help avoid bubbles (plus they look pretty!). Make any sort of simple pattern you like with the tines of the fork. Pierce the fork straight down through the shortbread to create effective holes. See photos below for example. You can also add a “frilly” edge to the shortbread petticoat tails by pressing the fork tines flat along the edge of the shortbread.
- Add almonds to each slice of shortbread (optional).
- Bake at 325 degrees for about a half an hour. The dough should puff up evenly as it bakes and then slightly fall just as it’s finished. The baked shortbread should smell sweet and be light golden brown.
- Re-slice shortbread along the same lines into wedge-shaped petticoat tails cookies.
Serve with coffee or tea. Shortbread petticoat tails are generally a holiday treat for Christmas and Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve) celebrations. I love to have them with a cup of tea pretty much any time in the winter.
Since this recipe makes two shortbreads, it’s perfect to make during the Christmas season. Save one for your family and give the other away as a gift! It makes a lovely present when it’s wrapped up on a holiday plate.
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Have you ever made shortbread petticoat tails before? What are your family’s holiday baking favourites? In our house, we love our Scottish shortbread and these gluten-free chocolate walnut cookies. Merry Christmas!