My Grandmother’s Shortbread – A Favorite Recipe

It’s funny how our “favorite things” list evolves over the years – new ones are added and some are removed.  My grandmother’s shortbread has always been on my list.  I associate it with visits to my grandparents, who were Scottish immigrants, living in a modest little house just off Solano Avenue in Berkeley, CA, where they raised four children and which they called home for over fifty years.  The shortbread recipe was from “the old country.”  As a child, the first thing I did when we arrived at their house was sneak into the kitchen and check the glass container on top of the counter to see if there was shortbread.

Teatime with homemade shortbread - how civilized.

I was thirteen when my grandmother died, but her shortbread lives on! I remember making it once when I was a college student (probably to procrastinate studying), and I used margarine instead of butter (it was cheaper). When I told my mother about using margarine, she muttered something about my grandmother rolling over in her grave.  My grandmother’s name was Helen Bell Hamilton (born 1887 in Scotland). I don’t think she’d mind if I shared her recipe with you. It’s so simple to make and quite delicious – perfect for tucking into a decorative tin at holiday time. And the way the house smells when it’s baking – heavenly! Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 cubes butter (softened)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar together. Add cornstarch and flour. Pat firmly into 9” square pan and prick with fork. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour or until it just starts to turn golden. Cut into squares while it’s still warm.



18 thoughts on “My Grandmother’s Shortbread – A Favorite Recipe

  1. Hi Christie. I love your story and I will definitely try your recipe. Shortbread is the ultimate comfort dessert with a nice hot cup of tea or Peet’s coffee! My grandmother was Italian and didn’t follow a recipe for anything – “a pinch of this, a half handful of that!!” We must always be mindful to pass on some kind of a legacy to our children so that our memories linger on. Recipes are such a perfect way to do it. Hmmmm – I wonder what I’ll pass on (besides tons of stash…heh! heh!)


  2. Hi Christie,
    My family, neighbors, and friends love it when I make my Scottish grandmother’s shortbread. I assume each Scottish family had their own shortbread recipe, as the mother would add ingredients by feel, look, and taste. It’s only when someone asks for the recipe that the baker has to figure out the measurement of each ingredient and subtle variations become apparent.

    My grandmother’s recipe uses the same 2 cubes (1 cup) butter, along with a bit more flour, a bit less sugar, and no cornsyrup. After mixing slightly, I knead the dough until it “sticks” together; then the dough goes into the pan. Shortbread is very rich, so one small piece is about all one can eat at one sitting. I’ll have to try your grandmother’s recipe sometime soon. Do you have a great scone recipe too? These recipes are so subtly different too—but all so very good.


  3. Christie–
    I too have a favorite shortbread recipe that I have been making at Christmas for over 30 years. One of my colleagues always brought it into the office at Christmastime, and the staff almost came to blows trying to make sure they got a piece. Last I heard, she had Alzheimers, but I always think fondly of Margot whenever I make the cookies.


  4. I too had a Scottish grandmother, her Dad emigrated when he was 13-in 1883. Grandma didn’t have a shortbread recipe but she gave me a beautiful Scottish cookbook for my wedding shower present that I treasure because it came from her. Several years after I married, I was able to take her to Scotland, a trip that we both loved. She has been gone for over 15 years now and I still miss her every day. Thanks so much for the recipe-I have a shortbread mold and I will give it a try and use that.


  5. thank you SOOOO much for sharing. shortbread is a favorite of mine and i’ve tried many, many times to find a recipe that matches the flavor that i’m looking for. i am going to try this immediately – with butter, not margarine. we don’t want the grandma doing any turning over whatsoever. wish i had some now to go with my morning coffee… it’s an excellent breakfast 🙂


  6. thanks for sharing the recipe. i know it will be one of my favorites and will remind me of where i grew up, too. but another thought: forget those 5 hour sugarless no calorie drinks for energy. have a cup of tea or coffee with just one of christie’s all natural shortbreads. perfect energy to finish that piecing job and start a family tradition with a new recipe.


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