Scottish shortbread

Road trips can give you wretched ideas. I mean really, really terrible ideas. For instance, they can make you imagine that lavender shortbread cookies will taste utterly delicious. They are dead wrong.
It's understandable that I was taken by this. There was a woman selling lavender sugar at my hometown winter farmers' market, and she offered to email me a cookie recipe. Delighted, I tucked it in my bag, a charming little four ounce sachet perfectly measured to the amount needed for a batch. Lavender grows in droves around here. What a wonderful gift idea this could make!

Needless to say, I got carried away. I toted the sachet here and there, up to a ski mountain and back down to my parents' house, then finally through Boston, out along the sand, and home to the Cape. I woke up very early Monday morning, in an effort to prepare something wonderful for you, but the instant the beaters released the scent, I knew. These were going to be awful.

In the end, they were not quite so terrible as I imagined they could be. But they were also not good. Every time you bite into a little lavender petal, your nose crinkles up and you are forced to run, hunched over, to spit them out in the trash can.

Luckily, a year or so ago, my grandmother gave me a fool proof Scottish shortbread recipe that I can offer you instead. It is much, much better than any shortbread made with lavender sugar, at least in my opinion, and it holds its shape better in the oven, too. With only three ingredients, it's also just about the easiest cookie on the planet to make. The recipe is from my grandfather's secretary Margaret, who according to my grandmother had Scottish ancestry and passed these down.

My grandmother annotated the recipe card: "I'm not wild about shortbread, but this is as good as it gets." Thank goodness! Starting with lavender, it couldn't get much worse.


1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
5/8 cup sugar (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
2 and 1/2 cups flour

Mix together thoroughly butter and sugar. Add flour with a pastry blender, then mix with hands. Chill dough (just until workable, not too long or you will not be able to work it and will have to let it warm up again). Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Roll out to 1/3-inch thick on floured board. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters (imprints look especially good on shortbread). Place on ungreased baking sheets, and prick tops as you would a pie shell. Bake 20 to 25 minutes; they should not brown or change shape.


Anonymous said...

Oh, dear, I always wondered about lavender sugar. I think you've satisfied my curiosity, and saved me the bother of trying it. But gee, the shortbread looks good. I think I WILL bother with that!

Glad to have you back home and entertaining your readers again. ~A Maine Reader

Alison said...

I have always wondered about this. I bought a huge bag of lavendar at the Atlantic Spice Co. and was planning on making tea cakes or cookies with it, but was worried they would taste too medicinal...maybe I will just make sachets to toss in with my linens instead.

Elspeth said...

I think linens are a much, much better place for it!

Anonymous said...

lavendar has always seemed to me (also) to be an intriguing baking ingredient. i wonder whether the lavendar farm people, in harwich, have a good recipe for lavendar cookies? perhaps the flowers should be ground up first, or maybe the less exciting leaves must be used instead.
love that you share your failures as well as your successes!
cheers, irene

Elspeth said...

Hi Irene:

Connecting with the Harwich farm sounds like a very good idea. I'll see what they have to say! Grinding it up might do something...though I'm still not sold on it.


Anonymous said...

I think this may be like cilantro, either you have a taste for it or you don't.

Last summer I made lemonade and thought I would trying adding a few sprigs of lavender to our glasses. Our friend loved it, I thought it was weird but palatable and my partner thought it was disgusting.

Diane Warren said...

Maybe you're supposed to pick out the petals before you use the sugar? Your grandmother's recipe sounds yummy and quick and easy so I'm going to try it. Maybe I'll dip some in chocolate. Chocolate improves the taste of just about everything!

Elspeth said...


I thought about that, but it didn't seem like the lavender had done much to the sugar, and the recipe said nothing of the sort, so I couldn't quite decide. I think we need an expert to weigh in here.


Diane Warren said...

Love the photo of the naughty cookies. If I put all of my bad food outside, I'd having standing room only from the animal population! Made the shortbread cookies as written. Perfectly delicious. I did leave the dough in the fridge too long so I nuked it for 20 sec. in the microwave. Couldn't find my rolling pin. I used a tall votive candle left over from P and N's wedding. Worked perfectly. Would offer a cookie to the fishmonger's mother but she seems to only be eating chicken and green things lately.

Elspeth said...


So glad they came out nicely for you. Sometimes when I can't find a rolling pin, I use a wine bottle, so a candle also sounds like a very good fit. Creativity at its best!


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