What Is Shortbread and Is It Actually Bread?

Shortbread must be a kind of bread, right? I mean, the word bread is in the name. Wrong! Well, then I guess shortbread must be a cookie, right? Wrong again! Well, mostly wrong. So then…is it a cracker? Wrong thrice! I guess we’ll never really know? Wrong! I’ll tell you right now. Here’s everything you need to know about shortbread. 

What is shortbread?

The shortbread’s origins lie in the bonnie hills of Scotland. Influenced by French bakery techniques, the Scots created this biscuit (I’m using biscuit in the Great British Bake Off sense of the word, more on that later) with a lot more butter than usual, and you can really taste it in the final product. Shortbread is a staple of any Scottish Christmas celebration.

Buttery and crumbly, shortbread’s popularity spread throughout the UK and eventually into America. These days, the most well-known example of shortbread in the U.S. is probably the Girl Scouts Trefoil

What makes shortbread short?

Shortbread has a simple recipe: one part sugar, two parts butter, three parts flour. That’s it. The butter to sugar ratio is quite high—higher than most other cookies (or biscuits). The resulting dough is quite hearty, a far cry from the stickiness of a homemade chocolate chip. The dough’s rigidity means it’s easy to shape and even imprint with a design before baking; the shortbread cookies will maintain their shape while baking and not spread. The resulting biscuit has a snap and a crumble. The more it crumbles, the more “short” it is.

TL;DR, short means crumbly.

What are shortbread cookies?

Now, here is where we get to nerd out on words and terminology. Are you excited?! Hey, don’t leave yet!

Americans all know what a cookie is: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, et cetera. Sometimes they are soft and chewy, sometimes they are crunchy, but a cookie is a cookie, no question about it. For us Americans, shortbread qualifies as a type of cookie. 

In the UK, shortbread is called a biscuit. For Brits, a biscuit is a hard, snappable, typically sweet baked good. If you’ve ever watched Biscuit Week on The Great British Bake Off and seen Paul Hollywood look for that distinctive biscuit snap, that’s what we are talking about here. There are, however, also savory biscuits.

If we were to transport the biscuit aisle from a UK grocery to the United States, the sweet biscuits would be shelved with the cookies and the savory biscuits would be shelved with the crackers. Words are fun!

Now, what about shortcake? That, my friends, is for another day.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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