Snacks & Treats

Best Shortbread Ever: An Old-Time Recipe

Dec 21, 2015

Baking cookies with your family is a classic Christmastime activity. Did you know that this activity was also popular in the 19th century?

As a Parks Canada heritage presenter, I've had the chance to make many cookies for people visiting Woodside National Historic Site. Woodside is the boyhood home of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada's tenth, and longest-serving Prime Minister. It's in Kitchener, Ontario.

The King family’s love of shortbread came from their Scottish grandparents, who immigrated to Canada. They surely would have made and served these delicious cookies during special gatherings at Woodside over 100 years ago.

Since many visitors have declared this the best shortbread they’ve ever tasted, I would like to share its secrets with you! 

You Will Need:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 lb butter at room temperature
  • pinch of salt (not necessary if butter is salted)
  • almond or vanilla extract, if desired

Supplies for shortbread cookies.


1. Sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Rub in the butter with your hands or a dough blender. It's important to be gentle with the dough, to avoid making it too hard or tough.

Hands mixing shortbread dough.

2. Make ¼" thick discs and cut them with cookie cutters. 

A cookie cutter on shortbread dough.

Younger kids can simply shape their cookies like medallions.

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3. Gently place the cookies about 1 inch apart on a non-stick or parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Shortbread cookies on a cookie sheet.

4. Bake at 350°F until pale brown, about 12-15 minutes.

Another option is to pat the dough (½” thick) onto a cookie sheet and prick with a fork. Once it's baked, cut the shortbread into fingers while still warm.

Even though this recipe is quite simple, don’t be surprised if it's a bit different every time you make it. With time and practise, it will become your own family classic.


This Club Parka activity is a perfect way to experience a taste of the past while spending time with your family.

To create even more of a Victorian Christmas feel in your house, you could decorate gingerbread or sugar cookies and hang them on your Christmas tree!

A Victorian Christmas tree.

Happy baking!

Alisha Campbell is a heritage presenter at Woodside National Historic Site.

This shortbread recipe has been used at Woodside for a very long time and is also available on the Parks Canada Heritage Gourmet App.

Article Author Club Parka, Parks Canada
Club Parka, Parks Canada

Club Parka is a Parks Canada program for preschoolers at national parks and historic sites across the country. Kids can take part in the program online, too!

Visit to download activity pages and get to know Parka, the busy little beaver who helps kids explore the world around them.

You can watch Parka weekday mornings on CBC TV following each episode of Chirp.

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