These delicious, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread biscuits are a treat all year round but are an absolute Christmas classic. One of the festive foods I miss the most as a vegan are biscuit selection boxes which are sold everywhere, but this recipe acts as a perfect base for you to make your own. Make a batch as a gift for friends or colleagues and they will never know the difference!
This is a very simple recipe for traditional Scottish Shortbread, with only 4 ingredients and easy preparation. The fun comes in the variety of shapes and flavours you can add to this basic recipe –
the options are endless. Once you have the dough made you can easily recreate any of your selection tin favourites. I’ve made a few common ones here (with instructions on how to make the shapes) to inspire you.
The most important ingredient to these biscuits is the butter as it really is the main flavour in a traditional shortbread recipe. You need to use a vegan butter that tastes really good, not just one that has a buttery texture. There’s a reason they call it ‘all-butter’ shortbread.
I recently found the brand Naturli in Sainsbury’s. It comes in a spreadable version for general use but also now in a block for baking. Not only does it taste great with a more mild yellow colour than others, it is also organic and palm-oil free, which is rare in vegan butters and nearly all pre-baked vegan products. If you can’t get hold of this, Vitalite is a good alternative which I have used a lot. I also recommend adding a little baking powder just to soften the dough and improve the texture.
I have included a full instruction guide (below the recipe) for a range of traditional designs made with simple fluted cutters, which can be found very cheaply. Alternatively you can choose your favourite cookie cutter, stamp or silicone mould and just make a whole batch. I hope you enjoy making some delicious shortbread to share this festive season!
Traditional, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread biscuits, dusted in sugar for a perfect festive treat
- 200 g vegan butter see notes
- 135 g caster sugar + more for dusting
- 325 g plain flour
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the vegan butter and sugar with a wooden spoon or mixer until combined.
Sieve the flour and baking powder together and add to the butter mixture. Stir together with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together and then use your hands to kneed into a rough dough. It will seem very crumbly at first but this is important for the melt-in-the-mouth texture of the final biscuit.
Knead with your hands for 1-2 minutes until the dough smooths out. The warmth of your hands will help with this, do not be tempted to add extra butter or non-dairy milk to help it combine. Keep kneading until the dough smooths out and you can pick up all the little bits left in the bowl.
Once smooth, transfer to a lightly floured board, shape the dough into a disc shape and wrap in cling film. Place in the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes.
When you’re ready to roll out the dough, preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line and grease two baking trays.
On a lightly floured board, roll out half of the dough with a rolling pin to around 1/2 inch thickness.
To cut into traditional shortbread fingers, measure out 1 x 3 inch fingers with a clean ruler, neatly slice with a sharp knife and transfer carefully to the baking trays. Give them some room for even heat distribution then repeat with the other half of the dough. This will make around 24 fingers.
If you want to make different shapes, you can cut the dough into thirds and use a piece for each shape or make half into fingers and use the other half for different shapes (see below for full guide to shapes).
Bake in the centre of the oven for 10 minutes. The edges should only have a touch of colour and they should still be mostly pale. They may seem soft but will firm up when you get them out of the oven.
Let them cool on the trays for 3-4 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack. Using a small sieve (like a tea strainer) evenly dust some more caster sugar on to the biscuits while they are still warm.
Once cool, they are ready to serve! They will keep nicely for 3-5 days.
FINGER: Roll the dough out and with a clean ruler, measure fingers of 1 x 3 inch and cut carefully with a sharp knife. In a zig-zag pattern, poke holes into the top for a traditional shortbread look using a chopstick or a cocktail stick.
ROUND: Use a 2 inch round cutter to cut out circles. You can also use the other side of the cutter to get a fluted edge. They can be dipped in chocolate and drizzled with a contrasting chocolate (e.g. dark with white drizzle, white with milk drizzle – as pictured). I also add chocolate chips to some of both the round and fluted biscuits.
WEDGE (round triangle): Take a 2 & 1/2 inch round cutter and cut circles out of the dough. Using a sharp knife, cut down two sides of the circle to make a triangle with a large rounded side. You can use the fluted side of the cutter to press a border onto the round edge and press holes into three neat lines starting from the point.
WHEEL: Cut out a fluted circle with a 2 inch cutter, then poke a hole in the centre with a chopstick or cocktail stick. Then using the same tool, gently press eight lines evenly around the biscuits, pointing towards the centre. Then poke holes towards the outer edges of each segment.
FLOWERS: Take a 2 inch round cutter and cut out circles. Using 1 & 1/2 inch fluted cutter press a border on to the biscuit and then poke holes in the centre using a chopstick or cocktail stick.
I made custom temporary cutters out of foil for both the heart and the thistle shapes. You can do this by taking some foil (preferably extra strong), fold it over about 1/2 inch in width and continue to do this as neatly as possible, pressing down the edges really well. Once you have a firm strip, fold the final edge down well.
Then using a ruler to help you shape any corners and something round – I used an icing tip – to shape any curves, shape your cutter as you want and use some sellotape to stick the ends together. These will get a little misshapen as you go along but should hold for one batch. They still give you a more consistent shape than freehand cutting, and you can always clean up the edges before baking.
HEART: Take a 9 inch tin foil strip, measure 4 & 1/2 inches to the middle and using a ruler fold in half. Take the undersides of the strip one at a time, then curve the strip round to meet together at the bottom. Once you are happy that you have an even heart shape, sellotape the ends together at the bottom.
Cut your heart shapes out. To decorate, roll the edge of a fluted cutter gently around the edge of the heart to make indented border. Then poke holes in the centre: three rows of three in the centre and then one row of two either side.
THISTLE: Take a 10 inch foil strip, measure 1/2 inch from the end, then fold with a ruler, measure 1 & 1/2 inch along and fold again. Measure 1/2 inch again and fold. You now have the top of your thistle. The rest of the length now needs to be curved round to meet the start. Make it more of an oval shape than a circle and then sellotape the ends together with around a 1/2 inch overlap
Cut out your thistle shapes. Then using a chopstick or a cocktail stick, press six lines into the top strip, three each side angled outwards following the edge of the biscuit. Then on the bottom oval, carefully pull the point along the dough to draw a criss-cross pattern. Don’t worry if it looks a bit messy as when it’s baked and dusted with sugar it will cover any imperfections.