Happy Shortbread Day!

What can be better than the basics of butter and sugar? That’s all shortbread is, with a bit of flour to hold it together so you don’t have to lick your fingers. Shortbread started out as old bread that was sugared and left in the oven until it turned into hardtack. This brick evolved into a simple recipe of butter, sugar and flour by the Scots. The “short” in shortbread comes from the use of butter as a “shortening”, as in a simple pastry crust. Which is the ideal introduction, because my recipe started out as a pie crust and I turned it into shortbread.

Years ago I learned my Scottish-American roots had a generational layover on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. There is a plethora of dessert recipes from this region that have their roots in Scotland. Unlike traditional shortbread, this version has egg yolk. The yolks make the final product a little softer and smoother. The original recipe called for the apples to be cooked with rum. That didn’t sound very Scottish to me, so I changed the rum to whiskey. Over the years I added a wee bit of whiskey to the crust too. Then I added a lot of whiskey to the crust. Finally, I turned the crust into cookies. You can leave the whiskey out, but what would be the fun in that?

Cape Breton Shortbread Cookies and Apple Tart


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 Tablespoons whiskey
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 ¾ cups flour
  • For the apple tart filling:
  • 2 lbs Granny Smith apples
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs lemon juice
  • ¼ cup whiskey
  • Walnuts or raisins for garnish

Directions for the crust and cookies:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. These cookies burn easily. It is better to lower the temperature and cook them longer if you think your oven runs hot.

Beat the butter until fluffy, then add sugar, vanilla and whiskey. At this point, stop and taste your creation. Decide whether you want more whiskey in this batch. This butter alone makes for a lovely whipped butter for adult-only brunches, on pancakes, waffles, or scones.

After you’ve put all the whiskey you want, add the egg yolks one at a time, and the flour a cup at a time. If the dough seems stiff, add a wee bit more whiskey. It will make it a little softer (and a little stiffer at the same time).

Traditional petticoat tails:  If you want traditional shortbread cookies, line the bottom of two 8” spring form pans with parchment paper and spread the dough out. The dough shouldn’t be more than 1/2” thick. After the dough is flat, use a fork to poke a pattern onto the dough. This prevents it from getting too puffy. To make cutting the cookies easier, you can score the dough into pie slices as well. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes or until the edges brown. You can remove the spring-form pan’s side once browning starts. This will ensure the center of the dough is done.

Drop cookies: Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop tablespoon sized balls onto the cookie sheet and give them a quick pat to flatten them a little. These cookies will be softer than regular shortbread. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until the bottoms start to brown.

Apple Tart Crust: To use the dough for the apple tart crust, line a 12” tart pan with removable bottom, a spring form pan, or eight 4” individual tart pans with parchment paper and spread the dough. I push the dough up on the sides so there is a well for the apple filling. To prevent the butter from melting too quickly and destroying the tart form, put the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes before cooking. Prebake the crust at 325 degrees, only to the point the edges start to become golden, 20-25 minutes. Do not let the crust overcook. It goes back in the oven. This isn’t a traditional pie crust that get a little dark brown on the edges. Dark brown will make this taste burned.

For the apple filling:

Core and peel the apples. Slice thin. Add apples, sugar, butter and lemon juice to a sauce pan and cook on medium to medium-high heat, until the apples release their juices. Add the whiskey. Lower the temperature and allow most of the liquid to evaporate. Allow to cool.

Place the apple filling onto the crust(s) and place back in the oven to finish cooking. The apples and crust should start to brown. Garnish with chopped walnuts or raisins. (I don’t put walnuts and raisins on while cooking, because they tend to burn.) Allow to cool before serving.

Leslie Gayle

Leslie is a one time CPA, wife and mom of twins. She’s an over thinker who loves karate, thunder, and travel. Her sweatpants are yoga pants and she takes her coffee with milk.

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