Simple melt-in-the-mouth perfectly Scottish Gluten Free Shortbread Petticoat Tails. They’re crisp, light, creamy-delicious and exceptionally moreish. Also optional dairy free and vegan.
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Perfect ‘Scottish’ gluten free Shortbread ‘Petticoat Tails’
Creating the PERFECT recipe for melt-in-the-mouth Gluten Free Shortbread has been on my list for a while. Sure, I already have very popular recipes on the blog for Almond Shortbread, Maple Shortbread and Hazelnut Shortbread (all of which I adore), but Scottish Shortbread as sticks or ‘Petticoat Tails’ is perhaps more familiar. Indeed… growing up, we often had a box of shortbread in the house… And ALWAYS ‘all butter’.
Delicious in its simplicity, it’s a British classic. And the gluten free recipe I share here is exactly as I remember… Rich and buttery… Crisp and light but with a good melty bite… Not over sweet, yet creamy on the tongue… And exceptionally moreish.
It’s incredibly easy to make too… So whether you’re new to baking, an expert baker or just trying to occupy the kids, this is a recipe for everyone!
Gluten Free ‘All Butter’ Shortbread
Although it is now relatively easy to find gluten free shortbread in the shops, I have yet to find a brand that makes me truly happy. They are either over-loaded with rice flour which makes them very gritty; Have way too much xanthan gum, resulting in a ‘slimy’ texture; Or they lack the sheer luxury and deliciousness of traditionally-added real dairy butter.
While I absolutely understand why some commercial brands are made to be completely ‘free from’ gluten, dairy and all other allergens, shortbread is one of the few products that (for me) needs butter. I’m lucky enough to still be able to eat it and for that, I’m truly grateful. My shortbread is thus the traditional buttery real deal (although it CAN, of course, be made dairy free and vegan… And it will still be delicious!)
Making Gluten Free Shortbread that is also dairy free and vegan
If you can’t eat dairy, my gluten free shortbread recipe is still divine. The only difference is that the dairy free vegan version needs to be made with dairy free butter alternative.
Make sure you choose a like-for-like block ‘yellow’ version, as this will ensure greater richness and stability to the dough. In the UK, I recommend using either Flora Plant B+tter or Stork vegan blocks.
Actually… If you make the shortbread with a good dairy free spread, it does have one advantage. And that is that the dough seems to be more stable in the oven! In my experience, dairy free biscuit dough is less at risk from spreading and thus (for this shortbread), will require less chilling.
The history of Scottish shortbread and Petticoat Tails
‘Shortbread’ has a long history dating back to the 12th Century. Back then, it was known as ‘biscuit bread’, made from left-over bread dough that was sometimes sweetened and dried in the oven.
By the 16th Century however, it had morphed into a much more luxurious treat that incorporated butter and more consistent amounts of sugar. The goodly amount of butter added to the dough is what makes it ‘short’ and melt-in-the-mouth crumbly and decadent. Indeed, it was a particular favourite with Mary Queen of Scots, who was said to be very fond of her ‘Petticoat Tails’ (segments of shortbread with a scalloped edge).
Of course, at the time, butter and sugar were expensive ingredients and thus, shortbread was largely reserved for celebrations.
As for the name ‘Petticoat Tails’? Apparently, there are two theories… The first is that ‘Petticoat Tail’ may be a corruption of the French term ‘petite gatelles’ (meaning ‘little cakes’). The second (which I much prefer) is that the round shape marked with triangles has the appearance of a circular gored petticoat, popular as a 16th Century woman’s undergarment.
What ingredients are needed for my Gluten Free Shortbread Recipe?
My gluten free shortbread has been through upwards of 8 tests to get it exactly how I want it. Like all shortbread recipes, it needs three key ingredients… butter, sugar and flour. But I’ve added a couple of extras because we are baking gluten free… And I wanted to make these biscuits entirely comparable and at least as good as the standard wheat version. Thus, you need:
This has been discussed above. If you can eat dairy, use it! The butter ensures the shortbread has a traditional and authentically rich, melt-in-the-mouth shortness, flavour and texture.
If you can’t eat dairy, then simply sub for a good dairy free alternative as already covered. It will still be delicious.
I tested my gluten free Shortbread recipe using both caster sugar (superfine sugar) and icing sugar (confectioner’s/powdered sugar). For the best look and texture, caster sugar is hands down the winner, producing a more even surface and traditional bite.
However, having done subsequent experiments when testing for my Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Shortbread Biscuits, a mix of the two (50g caster sugar + 20g Icing (powdered) sugar) produces a slightly ‘smoother’ shortbread, which you may prefer.
Gluten Free Flour
For textural balance, this shortbread recipe uses a combination of bog standard plain gluten free flour blend combined with a little corn starch. This creates the perfect crisp bite and ‘melt in the mouth’ yumminess. Most good gluten free flour blends should work well… I use my own Gluten Free Alchemist white mix A (the recipe for which is at the bottom of my ‘What is Gluten Free Flour?’ page). But a blend such as Doves Freee Plain White Flour is fine to use.
I do NOT recommend using self-raising flour. The levels of baking powder added in commercial blends result in a shortbread that is ‘over-puffed’.
Equally, do NOT increase the ratio of cornstarch, as this gives the shortbread an unpleasant ‘powdery’ texture.
I tested my gluten free shortbread recipe with varying amounts of xanthan gum as well as with none at all. My conclusion is that for gluten free shortbread, a little xanthan gum (or an alternative binder) is required to retain shape… But it needs to be at a cautious level so as to avoid any residual ‘sliminess’ on the palate.
I settled on ⅓ of a teaspoon, which weighs 1 gram on my dual platform scales (up to a maximum of ½ tsp if using a more ‘ricey’ flour blend). If your flour blend already contains xanthan gum or another binder, then don’t add any more.
Baking Powder for Petticoat Tails
Traditionally, baking powder is not used when making shortbread. So why have I chosen to add it and by how much?
Again, I tested the recipe with varying amounts of baking powder… My thoughts are that using a very little amount in gluten free shortbread dough produces the best result. By very little, I am talking ⅛ teaspoon (equivalent to 0.5g). This may sound a little ‘pointless’, but what it adds is a very slight lightness that gives a better definition to the flaky layers of shortness. Using none is still fine, but produces a slightly denser biscuit. Ultimately, some or none is about personal preference.
Be aware however, that increasing the amount of baking powder (even to a ¼ teaspoon) risks greater spread and loss of definition in any imprinted patterns. Below is a photo from my ¼ teaspoon experiments to show you the ‘flat’ pattern and light surface bubbling that resulted.
Shortbread needs a little salt! The salt massively enhances flavour, while cutting through the richness of the butter, taming the sweetness and bringing delightful pops of zing to the tongue.
How much you use is again personal preference… But I used a BIG pinch and it was perfect!
In my world… everything benefits from vanilla. It can be added as extract, paste or powder… just half a teaspoon is fine to take your gluten free shortbread up a level.
Chilling gluten free shortbread dough… Is it necessary?
I realise that dough which requires chilling can ‘make or break’ a decision to make a recipe for some people. But I am never happy about cutting corners, particularly at the expense of either taste or texture. So does gluten free shortbread dough really need chilling before it is baked?
The short answer is yes… IF you want the best flavour and melt-in-the-mouth texture.
When I developed the recipe, I tested varying percentages of butter in the mix. Too little and the shortbread was bland and not melty or rich enough (ie. it didn’t meet my exacting memory of the experience of eating REAL shortbread). Adding more resulted in biscuits that spread massively in the oven (unless the dough was adequately cold).
Creating stable shortbread that is also buttery enough is best achieved by chilling before baking. It is what it is!
If you can’t eat dairy however, chilling is less of a requirement. Non-dairy ‘butter alternative’ has a different structure to dairy butter and this seems to give it greater stability in the heat. Personally, I would still go for the ‘belt and braces’ approach with a short chill… But it’s up to you.
Tips for making the BEST Gluten Free Shortbread Petticoat Tails
Shortbread is one of the easiest gluten free bakes to make. So really, there’s very little to add to the recipe as shared at the bottom of this post. Nonetheless, I always like to give you any wisdom I have gained. So here’s what I’ve learned:
- Weigh the ingredients accurately – changes in ratios affect the stability and texture of the dough.
- Don’t over-beat the butter and sugar. Although it needs to be well blended, excessive beating adds too much air and this leads to greater crumbliness and air bubbles in the biscuits.
- Be patient when bringing the mixture together as a dough. It takes a little time for the flour to hydrate with the fat and come together. Do NOT add any extra moisture (even if it seems tempting).
- Bring the final dough ball together by hand, but don’t knead or overwork it! The dough must remain cool and should not be over-compressed if it is to have the desired light texture.
- If ‘scalloping’ the edges for Petticoat Tails segments, shape the dough circle first, then partially chill before edging. Too soft and it’s hard to scallop evenly… Too hard and the dough will crack. I chill the circle for about 15 minutes to ensure the right pliability.
- If using the recipe to make individual shortbread biscuits… Roll and cut the dough BEFORE chilling. This gives a cleaner edge and avoids cracking. THEN chill before baking.
- For round Petticoat Tails, bake in a cake tin. The additional insulation supports an even heat andprotects the edges from over-browning.
- Bake low and slow. Shortbread should be pale in colour and gently cooked.
- For a traditional finish, sprinkle shortbread with extra sugar as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Ready to make Gluten Free Shortbread Petticoat Tails?
And that’s all there is to it. The printable recipe for my gluten free Shortbread Petticoat Tails is just below (scroll a little further). I hope it brings back incredible memories of shortbread past…
For LOADS of other incredible gluten free biscuit recipes, head over to our dedicated Gluten Free Cookies and Biscuits Index. With everything from iconic Jammie Dodgers to our VERY popular Custard Creams and gluten free Bourbon Biscuits… Or maybe you prefer some perfect Party Rings, Ginger Biscuits or Viennese Whirls… And that’s just for starters! ALL our recipes are shared on the blog for FREE. 😊
Because I love you guys!
Gluten Free Shortbread (Petticoat Tails)
- electric whisk or firm silicone/wooden spoon
- 135 g unsalted butter or block dairy free alternative (softened)
- 70 g caster sugar (superfine sugar) – Or use a combination of 50g caster sugar + 20g Icing (powdered) sugar for a smoother texture
- ½ tsp vanilla paste or extract
- 205 g plain gluten free flour blend eg Gluten Free Alchemist mix A – see NOTES or Doves Freee
- 40 g corn starch (UK cornflour)
- ⅓ tsp xanthan gum (= 1 g) – leave out if flour blend used already contains xanthan or an alternative binder
- ⅛ tsp baking powder (= 0.5 g) (optional, but adds a little extra lightness)
- big pinch fine sea salt (to taste)
- extra sugar (caster or granulated) to sprinkle
- In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter with the caster sugar and vanilla until smooth and creamy. This can be done by whisk or by hand, but be careful not to over-beat).
- Separately mix together the dry ingredients (flours, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt). Tip: weigh into a large airtight container and shake vigorously.
- Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter bowl and 'massage' together with the back of a firm mixing spoon, flat knife or spatula until it all starts to come together as a dough. This will take some time, but be patient and do NOT add any additional liquid or other ingredients to the mix.
- When the mixture is starting to come together, use hands to bring it all together into a smooth ball, but be careful not to 'knead' or overwork as the dough needs to remain cool and not to be over-compressed.
- Line an 8 inch round loose-bottomed cake tin with a circle of baking paper.
- Take the dough and press it into the base of the tin using hands and/or the back of a spoon, until it fills the tin as an even circle. (See NOTES if using the dough for individual cookies)
- Smooth the surface with the back of a spoon, then place in the fridge for about 15 minutes to start to firm up a little. To 'scallop' the edges, the dough needs to have a little more stability, but not to be hard.
- After 15 minutes, remove the tin from the fridge and carefully remove the round of biscuit dough from the tin, placing it on a flat surface where you can access the sides.
- 'Crimp' or 'scallop' the edges (I press a finger into each side to make opposite indentations and gradually work my way round the biscuit dough until the scallops meet).
- Mark the top into segments with a sharp knife and prick the surface into a nice pattern for decoration.
- Gently return the circle of dough to the baking tin and chill for a further 30 to 40 minutes.
- Pre-heat the oven to 160 C (320 F) and bake the shortbread in the tin for about 55 minutes until the edges are just starting to darken slightly.
- Remove from the oven and sprinkle generously with additional caster or granulated sugar.
- Cool the shortbread completely in the tin. (If there is any doubt about whether the shortbread is crisp enough, it can be left to cool in the turned off oven for an additional 20 to 30 minutes).
© 2019-2023 Kate Dowse All Rights Reserved – Do not copy or re-publish this recipe or any part of this recipe on any other blog, on social media or in a publication without the express permission of Gluten Free Alchemist