Polka Dot Shortbread

Polka Dot Shortbread
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polka dot shortbread
The dots tend to spread, but they still look pretty good.

We’ve wanted to make these for so long it seems as if the recipe card started to decay under the pile of other recipes we have on our list. So, finally, one Monday, when we wanted something for our fellow volunteers helping out at our downtown walk, we did. Of course, to get the lemon curd the recipe calls for we just had to make and eat a Lemon Sabayon Tart (not all at once, of course).

This recipe comes from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea,by Martha Hall Foose, and we’ll tell you right up front that it called for an 8-inch round tart pan with removable bottom. We didn’t do that, because our tart pan was already in use. Remember: Lemon Sabayon Tart. Instead, we used about 3/4ths of the dough for a 4×13 inch tart pan, while the extra went into a couple of 5-inch pie plates. Technically, all the dough should have gone into the 4×13 inch (52 sq. in.) pan, as it has the same area as an 8-inch round pan (about 50 sq. in.), but, when we pressed in the dough, it looked as if it was over-filled.

Polka Dot Shortbread

Yield: about 16 pieces

Polka Dot Shortbread


  • 1 3/4 cups (245 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) rice flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbs seedless raspberry jam (or other red jam)
  • 2 Tbs lemon curd

Abbreviated Instructions

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Place flours, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse/run until blended. Add butter and vanilla and pulse/run until a dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a clean work surface and quickly knead in any dry ingredients that haven't been incorporated.

Press dough into an 8-inch tart pan with removable bottom and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill two piping bags (or sandwich bags with a tiny corner cut off) with the jam and curd.

Remove the shortbread from the oven, and, using a dowel or the handle of a wooden spoon, make indentations in the shortbread, pressing about halfway through the dough. Fill the indentations with a small squeeze of curd or jam.

Return the shortbread to the oven and continue baking until the edges turn golden brown, about 20 more minutes.

Immediately score the top of the shortbread, then let cool completely in the pan.

Remove from pan and cut along the score marks.


Ingredient discussion:

For the jam, pick one that’s more of a jelly — no chunks of fruit. It’ll be easier to pipe into the cookies. If you want, you can make your own lemon curd; it has a nice bright yellow color. Or, perhaps, use something like blueberry jam, instead, or another jam of a different color. Rice flour: if you don’t have it, add another 1/4 cup (35 g) of all-purpose flour, and you’ll get just about the same result. We actually ground our own rice flour to use, and, while the texture was a bit “sandier,” it wasn’t all that different.

Procedure in detail:

Preheat oven to 325°F.

dry ingredients
If you don’t have rice flour, don’t bother buying it; just replace it with more all-purpose flour.

Combine dry ingredients. Place the flours, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse/run until everything seems well-mixed, about a minute.

adding butter and vanilla
If it seems to be a lot of butter, it is. We think it might even be just a bit too much butter (about 2 tablespoons too much).
making shortbread dough
It takes a while to form a dough, and, even though it might be tempting to process until all the dry ingredients are incorporated, don’t. Instead, smear and fold them in.

Add butter and vanilla. Distribute the chunks of butter over the surface and add the vanilla. You can try pulsing to incorporate the butter, but we found we just had to let the food processor run for a minute, or until the dough has mostly formed. It took about a minute.

smearing dough
Use the heel of your hand to make a smearing motion across the dough, fold it over, and repeat until all the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Knead. Not knead like bread dough, more like smear and fold to incorporate any remaining dry ingredients. Don’t work the dough so much that the butter starts to melt; instead, work quickly and efficiently.

scored dough
The scoring pretty much goes away when you bake these cookies. It does help to have them for distributing the polka dots, though.

Press into pan. Press the dough into the pan, making sure to get it pressed into the edges (for a nice fluted look). To make sure the dough is in an even layer, use a small flat-bottomed measuring cup or the back of a spoon to smooth it out. The original recipe suggested scoring the top into cookie-sized pieces now, and we did, but any scores you make will be gone by the time this is baked, so you really don’t have to bother.

Bake. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet — some of the butter will leak out of that removable bottomed pan — and slide it into the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is quite soft and appears almost melted.

bags with jam and curd
A couple of small sandwich bag will fill in perfectly for piping bags, and, when you form the dots, these will really help.

Fill bags. Place a couple of tablespoons of curd into a sealable sandwich bag with a tiny bit of the corner removed. This will act as a small piping bag, which, of course, you could use, instead. Do the same with the raspberry jam and set both bags aside for now.

making polka dots
Just a quick squeeze and you’ll fill up the dimples with curd, making polka dots.

Make polka dots. Take the shortbread out of the oven, and, using the end of a wooden spoon, or a small dowel, or the end of a chopstick, make indentations across the shortbread. Fill each of the dents with a small squeeze of either jam or lemon curd, and think about how much trouble this would be if you didn’t use the bags for this.

Bake. Slide back into the oven and continue baking until the edges of the shortbread are a light golden brown. For us, that was about 20 minutes more, even though the original recipe suggested only 10 minutes. Making adjustments such as this is just one of the things you have to do as a dedicated scratcher.

Score and cool. Immediately after removal from the oven, use a sharp knife to score the shortbread. It turns out that any scoring done before baking is obliterated, so you want to score now, before the shortbread crisps up. Let the shortbread cool completely in the pan before removing and slicing.

We had high hopes for this shortbread, but our hopes were dashed. We really liked the idea of having dots of color on the shortbread — it looks plain, otherwise — even though they wouldn’t add much flavor. We did expect the shortbread to be good, though. However, we didn’t find them so; the amount of butter seemed a bit too much, making these cookies just a tad too rich, and the texture was a bit off, too. We really happen to prefer Bouchon Bakery Shortbread; it’s just about perfect in taste and texture. These, ah, we’ll say three stars.

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