Did you know the 6th January is National Shortbread day? Scottish shortbread is a classic mid afternoon snack for most Britons and many biscuit lovers from the rest of the world and throughout history, but how did it come into being?
In the middle ages, anyone who had left over dough when making bread would flatten it out and add it very low in the oven for a long time to let it dry out and make a rusk. These were known as biscuit breads – the word biscuit coming for the French meaning “twice cooked”. Over time people started replacing the yeast with butter – otherwise known as shortening – and thus, the “Short” bread was born.
The addition of butter made shortbread an expensive addition to the tea table. Most Scots would only enjoy shortbread at big celebrations such as weddings, Christmas and Hogmanay (the Scottish celebration of New Year). For Christmas, it is thought that the design for shortbread was based around the pagan Yule cakes which were made to be round in celebration of the sun. At the beginning of the New Year, First Footers (the first arrivals to your home after midnight on New Years Eve) are traditionally offered shortbread upon arrival. In Shetland, it was a wedding tradition to break a great shortbread over the head of the bride as she entered the threshold of her new home.
In the Elizabethan era, shortbread peaked in popularity in the north of Britain as Mary Queen of Scots was particularly fond of shortbread. Her favourite style of shortbread was “petticoat tails” which were large circular shortbreads cut into triangular pieces marked with fork pricks. In Mary Queen of Scot’s day they would have been flavoured with caraway seeds. Since Mary was brought up in France it was thought that the name of the shortbread shape “petticoat tails” was a corruption of the French “petite gallettes” meaning little biscuits. However, it is now widely considered that it comes from the term “petticoat tallies” which were the triangular dress making patterns used to make large Elizabethan petticoats.
Traditionally, shortbread comes in three classic shapes: the petticoat tails (triangular pieces broken from a large pizza shaped biscuit); shortbread rounds (small round biscuits); and shortbread fingers (slices broken from long slabs of shortbread, scored into slices before baking).
At Wood and Son our favourite shapes are shortbread rounds as they’re a perfect sized snack to have with your cup of tea. We stock the shortbread from Stewart’s, a prestigious and traditional shortbread baker from Perth in Scotland. You can buy their shortbread rounds in a 190g tin from us, or the 400g classic selection features all three traditional shapes of shortbread and you can choose your favourite shape for yourself.