Saturday, January 24, 2015

For Robbie Burns Day: great-great grandmother's Scottish short bread

By Victoria Abbott aka Mary Jane and Victoria Maffini

Growing up in Cape Breton Island on the east coast of Canada, all things Scottish were important to us. After all,Cape Breton is part of Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia is Latin for New Scotland.  The rugged coastline is similar to that of Scotland. There were many Scots among the early settlers and Scottish culture was important. You can still find Gaelic road signs.  On January 25th many celebrate the great Scottish poet.  When Robbie Burns Day rolls, we still sit up and take notice.   And we'll answer to MacFinney while we're at it.

As Robbie Burns Day happens in cold and dreary January, it’s a welcome celebration.  We’ll put on some Celtic music and dress up the table with our Nova Scotia tartan tablecloth and have a traditional recipe.
Nope, not haggis.  Sorry to disappoint!

 But we’ll be serving the buttery shortbread cookies that MJ’s mum and Victoria’s grandmother always made. This recipe is called Great-great-grandmother’s Shortbread Cookies.  It’s been in steady use for at least 150 years.  

In our family, they were cut in rectangles and decorated with buttercream icing and little bits of Maraschino cherries. They were very cheerful and always a staple at Christmas and Robbie Burns Day. We used dried cranberries.

We went for round cut-outs this time and even a couple of ‘Scottie dogs’.  Next year, more Scottie dogs.
We’ll serve our shortbread with tea, perhaps, and a glass of Scotch on the night. We went for Famous Grouse, a blend, because we thought it looked nice and Scottish.  

 Much as we love single malt whisky, we didn’t think it went with cookies. 

So please, drop in and enjoy.  We'll be glad to see you.

Great-great-grandmother’s shortbread

½ lb butter (1 cup)
½ cup icing sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp granulated sugar

Mix together, using a stand mixer or a pastry cutter. We went modern.  Roll dough into a ball
Wrap in wax paper (or cloth or even saran wrap) and put in fridge for 15 minutes.

Roll out on floured surface to about 1/3 inch thick. 

Cut in rectangles with a knife 

Or use cookie cutters to make fancy shapes.  We stayed with round. Poke little decorative holes with a fork.


 Sprinkle with granulated sugar (optional)

 By the way, you can make  your shortbread a bit thicker, but they may need to bake a bit longer.

Bake at 300 in MIDDLE RACK for 18 – 20 minutes. They shouldn’t brown, that will change the taste.  Cool.  Ice if you wish.


Butter Cream Icing

Blend 1 cup icing sugar and ¼ cup soft butter. Add 1 ½ tablespons cream (milk or hot water if you’re stuck) and 1 tsp of vanilla. Sometimes  we add ¼ almond extract too.  Taste and adjust. If too sweet, add a pinch of salt.



Victoria Abbott is the mysterious collaboration between the artist and photographer Victoria Maffini and her mother, the mystery writer, Mary Jane Maffini.  Strangely enough, their three book collector mysteries, The Christie Curse, The Sayers Swindle and The Wolfe Widow all contain lots of food.The Marsh Madness is due out in September 2015

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And if you want a trip to Cape Breton yourself, hunt down a copy of MJ’s Little Boy Blues: a Camilla MacPhee mystery. A road trip is included.

Find out more about us here!


  1. I need a cookie for shipping coast to coast. Do you think this would be a good cookie for that? I think they look lovely!

    1. I think they would stand the trip, Helena. I'd avoid the icing because of the cream, but otherwise they should be fine.



  2. MJ, I may not be Scottish but I truly love shortbread, along with the idea of celebrating the poet Robert Burns. And, if a recipe has proven to be passed down through the generations for 150 years, it's a must-try in my book!

    Thanks to you and your daughter for providing years of great recipes, along with a sense of humor and very talented writing 'treats' for all of us to enjoy. (Oh & I love seeing the pictures of the pets, too!) I feel like I've gotten to know you and all the bloggers so well here at MLK!

    Will definitely try the shortbread recipe soon! Hope your family enjoys Robbie Burns night! xo

    1. Thanks so much, Lynn! We love you readers too. Glad you like the pets and all the fun stuff as well.

      Austin City Limits is on PBS here today (yes, even in Canada!) so I am thinking good thoughts about Texas. You may not be within a thousand miles of Austin, but even so, XO

    2. MJ ~ We actually lived in Austin for about 3 years, back in the early days of our marriage. What a great town, with wonderful music and food! Still have friends there to this day!

  3. Oh, but I do love shortbread. Thanks for this delectable recipe, and for the tip not to let them brown because it will alter the taste. I loved The Wolfe Widow!

    1. Thank you, Linda! I hope you are happy with the result. So glad you enjoyed The Wolfe Widow.


  4. Ah, the Scots do know their shortbread! It's such a simple, satisfying cookie. There some small possibility that my grandmother might have had a Scottish mother (a single census reference)--and she did love her sweets!

    1. No doubt we're related way back, Sheila! I am more Irish than Scottish, but it depends what we're celebrating.


  5. You make it look so easy! The recipe looks good, they are such a good cookie!

    1. Thank you! They are are really easy. Regards to you and your lovely beagle.



  6. Isn't it amazing that such simple ingredients still win us over after all these years. You just can't improve on some things. And they look beautiful!

    Nova Scotia makes me think of Oak Island. I'm addicted to the new TV show about getting to the bottom of the shaft! It certainly is beautiful there (the shaft–not so pretty).

    1. We grew up hearing about Oak Island treasure, Krista. I really must try to catch the show.

      Glad you like the shortbread. They are really simple.


  7. What a lovely coastline! And I do love shortbread. Somewhere, I have a photo of me, just out of college, with the statue of Robert Burns in Central Park!