gluten-free shortbread

Scottish shortbread II

I made three batches of shortbread yesterday.

Yes, I’m a little nuts. It’s the last day of posting holiday cookie recipes around here. After jam tarts, gingerbread men, coconut sugar cookies, cannolis, plus 8 more, you think I’d be done. That’s an even dozen, right?

(Plus, if you go over to our friend Silvana Nardone’s blog, Dish Towel Diaries, you’ll find our recipe for chocolate crackle cookies, inspired by our friend Tamiko.)

So I could have stopped. I have to admit — I’m a little exhausted. After I finish this post, we can leave for the city and do our first Christmas shopping. (shudder.) Perhaps no one would have screamed if I had let go.

However, I wanted to give you a baker’s dozen. You know that sweet little act of kindness, when the baker slips one more sugar cookie into your bag of dozen, a small surprise you find when you walk into your kitchen? That’s what I wanted to give you. (I guess I’m not being very silent about it.)

I promised you shortbread, and I just couldn’t put up a recipe until I knew it in my hands, until I could explain what worked for us, and hopefully guide you to making shortbread in your kitchen.

That’s all this is about: you baking in your kitchen, with your kids, your friends, with good music playing. And the joy we can give people with a few flaky bites of shortbread.

Besides, we had to make this.

Scotch shortbread

A few weeks ago, we met Gabrielle Moorhead, who is one of the forces behind Grand Central Bakery. We all met at the Tom Douglas cookbook social, where we made baguettes with curried red lentil puree. (They were a hit.) Gabby and I started talking, animatedly, about baking and food and family. Her father, it turns out, was recently diagnosed with celiac. He’s doing well, but he misses certain foods. Mostly, his grandmother’s Scottish shortbread.

I couldn’t resist this. I had to make it for him.

Baking is so much more than following a recipe. In fact, I think you have to make a recipe once just to understand its dance: preheating the oven, then combining the flours and gums and salt. Do you cream the butter and sugar? Or melt the butter? Do you knead the butter with your hands? White sugar or brown? Flaky or fluffy? Which do you want? What story is this cookie trying to tell?

That’s why I have been so happily absorbed these past few weeks, with my hands in the flours. This is work beyond words. It’s about feel and instinct and trusting yourself and being in the moments and whistling while you work, the magic combination of pushing and acceptance, listening and wishing, watching for the sugar and butter to become one, and starting over if none of it works, without any fuss.

I love baking with all my heart.

And if you can give a man his grandmother’s shortbread back? The flaky layers and crisp crust, the mild sweetness, the way it melts on the tongue? So much the better.

You want to try it? Here you go.

GLUTEN-FREE SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD, adapted from Great Grandma Burgess

The original recipe makes a LOT of shortbread. Since I was making three different batches yesterday, I cut this one in half, the ratios you will see here. If you want, you can easily double this.

12 ounces gluten-free all-purpose flour mix 
1 teaspoon psyllium husk 
1 1/2 ounces white rice flour
4 ounces powdered sugar (grind it fine, if you can)
generous pinch kosher salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter, cool and not melty (out of the refrigerator for 10 minutes)

Preparing to bake. Butter a half jelly roll pan. (A jelly roll pan is a baking sheet with sides.) Carefully lay down a piece of parchment paper, with enough to leave some hanging over the edges. Press it into the buttered pan, taking care to leave no wrinkles. Butter the parchment paper. Set aside.

Making the dough. Put the flour, psyllium husks, white rice flour, sugar, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Whisk them together to combine and aerate. Cut the butter into small chunks and add them to the flour. Using your hands and patience, knead the butter into the dough. Think pie crust. Think about massage. You are trying to coat every part of the flour with fat. Work with purpose — you don’t want the butter to grow too warm. When the butter is fully kneaded into the flour, you are done.

Press the dough into the buttered parchment paper. It might be crumbly at first, but you can press it together. (If you don’t have a half jelly roll pan — and we don’t! — fill only half the jelly roll pan.) When it is all pressed in, put another piece of parchment paper over the top and roll the dough smooth with a rolling pin.

Prick the top of the dough with a fork, leaving no more than 1/4-inch space between fork pricks. This will help prevent the dough from puffing and rising unevenly. Using a sharp knife, score the dough all the way down to the bottom of the pan. (If you want bars, cut those. If you want squares, cut those.)

Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.

Baking the shortbread. Preheat the oven to 300°. When it is fully heated, remove the jelly roll pan from the refrigerator and slide it into the oven. Bake until the edges are lightly golden brown and the top of the shortbread set, about 45 to 60 minutes, depending on your oven.

Remove the shortbread from the oven. Cut into the lines you scored before baking. Allow the shortbread to cool before eating.

And there you have it. Gluten-free shortbread.

But wait! There’s more.

lemon shortbread II


Yesterday, when I was playing around with recipes, I was a little dazzled by all the choices for shortbread recipes. Some say to use only cold butter, others insist it must be room temperature. Some even say to melt the butter. Some call for just all-purpose flour. Others say to add white rice flour (an old Scottish trick) for crispness, and others say to add cornstarch for softness. There seems to be no agreement.

I love that.

(If you want to understand it, read this Guardian piece about shortbread.)

So I had to make another batch, this time using cornstarch for softness and room-temperature butter so soft that the directions call for it to have the texture of whipped mayonnaise.

Oh my. Meyer lemon shortbread, soft without being dense, wonderfully tart on the tongue.

Hello, love.

Would you like to make this one? It’s a recipe from Tartine Bakery, adapted by Shauna Sever. (I like anyone named Shauna.)

Rather than typing out the recipe, I’m going to make you head over there. All you have to do is use 280 grams of our gluten-free all-purpose flour mix (or any gluten-free all-purpose flour mix you like) for the all-purpose flour in the original recipe, plus 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum and 1/4 teaspoon guar gum.

You see, that’s all you need to do to convert all your favorite family recipes: use 140 grams of your favorite gluten-free flour mix for every cup of regular all-purpose flour, add 1% of the volume of flours in psyllium husk, and then start baking. That’s it.

And after you have this in your hands and heart, you’ll start making up your own recipes. Like we do here.

Yesterday, even though I already had 2 successful shortbreads cooling on the dining room table, I pulled out the butter again. This time, I wanted to work with ratios and melted butter.

Brown butter balsamic shortbread cookies with rosemary.

And they were possibly the best of the three.

Want to make some? Just follow this, which is based on the standard ratio for shortbread cookies (1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, 3 parts flour). I have left it stripped down for those of you like Danny who don’t want a recipe but a list of ingredients. This is what my notes look like when I’m making something up, so I thought this time I’d let you see it this way.

60 grams sugar
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
120 grams brown butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
180 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour mix 
1/2 teaspoon psyllium husk
pinch salt

Sugar + rosemary
mix flour, psyllium, salt
refrigerate in log
bake at 350° 12 to 15

If you have the ingredients, and you want the freedom of making this yourself without consulting a recipe, make these.

(Also, here’s a secret: you could substitute any flavors you wanted in there to make your own shortbread cookies. Roll the dough into a log and refrigerate before baking. You have refrigerator shortbread cookies.)

So there you have it: gluten-free shortbread, three ways.

It doesn’t matter how you make it, really. It doesn’t matter if your shortbread is imperfect. What matters is that you find that place of heart and hands, pushing and acceptance, and dancing in your kitchen as you bake shortbread for someone you love.

24 comments on “gluten-free shortbread

  1. Taylor

    You are the queen of the gluten-free world. Simply amazing! I can’t wait to try out one of these recipes! Anyone who things being gluten-free means being denied dietary goodness is a sadly, sorely mistaken.

  2. Madeleine

    I tried the substitution by weight with my regular Joy of Cooking pound cake recipe, and luckily I baked it in 3 tiny loaf pans. Because the middle would never have cooked through otherwise. I bought the pans because this is an ongoing problem with baking GF breads and cakes. Has anybody found a fix that doesn’t involve overloading with flour (which = dry cake)?
    In all other ways the recipe worked perfectly, and tasted identical to the regular one I made for my daughter’s birthday.

  3. Madeleine

    And I tried again today with a brownie recipe, baked in a regular pan; they came out gooey in the middle. I used Pamela’s flour blend + a little guar gum. Any ideas?
    Every recipe of YOURS has worked perfectly -in fact your 36 hour chocolate chip cookies are the family favorite. Thanks for this blog.

  4. Rachel

    One of my best friends recently went gluten-free and I’ve been wanting to try it since my sister and dad have also been trying to eat less gluten, for health’s sake. I’ll definitely be trying out this recipe – and many more from your site – very soon! Thanks for the fabulously entertaining and extremely informative blog!!

  5. Nathaniel Russell(Nate)

    I’m just getting my foundation in baking and im also celiac. So I’m learning both normal and gluten-free. Its like two different worlds as I have learned very quickly. Thank you for your recipes it helps get a better grasp on the basics.

  6. Oskar Back

    Ounces? In the Gluten-free Scottish Shortbread recipe, do you mean volume or weight? With water, it’s the same thing. But when you’re talking about flour, there’s a world of difference. I suspect it’s weight, but I just wanted to be sure.

    I won’t open the whole “troy vs. avoirdupois” can of worms!

  7. Dana

    Thank you Shauna & thank you Great Grandma Burgess! I’ve already had to say no to my favorite cookies because of my new found gluten sensitivity, and it was depressing. Then I found your recipe and I’ve just finished making them. WOW are they GOOD!!!!! Some of the best shortbread cookies I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a lot). Now I’ve got to say no again – to my 5th serving tonight!!! 🙂

  8. Angela

    Thank you so much for being so open with your recipes and for posting them for all the world to see. I love that you post your what works and what doesn’t. Solves problems for all of us, thanks again!

  9. Michelle

    Hello! I made these shortbreads today and did it a bit different. I added 1 tsp of vanilla, rolled the dough into a log before putting it into the fridge and when they came out of the fridge I sliced them into 1 inch thick cookies and baked them on a cookie sheet on 300 for 20 min. Oh My! they were absolutely divine! THE best shortbreads I’ve ever had! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!! Cheers! Merry Christmas to all!

  10. Sarah

    I have to say, I’m curious. Given your recent conversion away from guar and xantham gums (hurray, by the way) – why use it in this recipe? In my 4 years of baking GF, I have never ONCE found the inclusion of these gums necessary or even tasty in anything. Is there a reason you feel they’re necessary for the shortbread?

    Thanks always for the wonderful suggestions, recipes, and ideas.

    1. shauna

      Kelley, they aren’t. I’ve learned since then. Replace them with some psyllium husk instead.

  11. Amy

    Hi Shauna. Your recipes are amazing, I am baking like a fiend for my wheat-free son after discovering your all-purpose flour mix from Christmas. Have you an ideas for making shortbread without the butter?? We are a dairy-free house.

  12. JoAnn

    Made the basic shortbread today and it is totally yummy! My gluten-free friends were really surprised. I didn’t have all the right ingredients for Ahern’s AP GF flour – only 1/10th the arrow root, no potato flour, no guar gum. Not sure my brown rice flour is superfine (tho’ I’ll look for some). So I mixed everything I had to make the whole batch. Then when I made the shortbread I used about 2 tbls of brn rice/almond flour mixture. The moral of the story was that I don’t have to be 100% faithful to the recipe’s exact flours. With practice comes knowledge. Anyway, thanks. Your site has the best GF information I’ve yet found online.

  13. Jenn

    This looks amazing and I will definitely be giving it a try. Both my mom and myself are doing a gluten-free trial to see if it helps us feel better and we’re quite sad about the lack of shortbread we’ll be able to eat this Christmas. I’m hoping to fix that.

    Question though, when I click on the link for the all purpose gluten free flour mix, it takes me to a recipe for deviled eggs. Would you be able to give me the correct link?

  14. Cindy

    I just started baking gluten-free. I ran into similar problems with the middle of the bread remaining very moist. It tasted good though had to be sliced and toasted. I was given a cookbook that uses soaked chia seeds to replace the gluten. I want to get away from the xanthum gum that many of these recipes have. Can I freely substitute physillum husks, teaspoon for teaspoon, for the xanthum? Can I use the psyllium with the chia seeds? Since I don’t know the properties of each I’m afraid to try.

    1. shauna

      yes! We don’t use xanthan gum either, and some day I’ll have the time to rewrite every recipe! But for now, use psyllium in place of the gums.

  15. Toni

    In the ingredients for your scottish shortbread you do not list xanthan gum, &guar gum, but you do list it in the Making the dough section. What are the amounts needed? Psyllium husk is in the ingredients list, but not in the making the dough section…do you use it??

  16. Jodi

    Did I miss something? The ingredients show psyllium husks, but they aren’t mentioned in the directions. The directions mention guar/xanthan gum but neither are listed in the ingredients. I’d love to make these, as the last one I tried came out way too crumbly. Looking for the perfect gf shortbread recipe for my daughter, and this might be it, if I can just understand the directions. Thanks. 🙂

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