Lesley Johnston’s Shortbread – 3 Ways

It is a little known fact that my wife is a top class baker. Little known, because here at Casa Johnston we try not to eat sweet things, we don't do coffee mornings, and so far as I'm aware afternoon tea is not an event which has ever happened in this house in my time here. I'd be a great afternoon tea partner for a sweet toothed person, as I'd be happy to take all the sandwiches in exchange for scones, cakes and the like.

Scones, I have never seen the point of: Lesley excels at them. If Gordon the builder is coming in for a cuppa, a batch can be rustled up in needle nardle noo time. Scales, it seems, are for wimps. A real expert just chucks it in and voilà! perfection. Lesley was taught how not to make scones while at primary school. She ignored the teacher's directions and rattled off a batch as she did at home. Her classmates produced bullets, while hers came out as light and lovely, much to the teacher's annoyance.

In the latter years of her Ma's life, trips to Ardrossan would see a month's worth of bakery produce conjured up in a few hours. And these days, as I occasionally try to extend my repertoire to cakes and pastry, more often than not my pathetic requests for advice will result in the project being taken out of my hands altogether and expertly completed. Lockdown has us all doing different things. L complains that I don't let her into the kitchen. Not true, incidentally, but recent forays have produced some very good things, including today's shortbread, the three ways being plain, ginger and lavender.

Shortbread can come in all shapes and sizes. Lesley's method produces thin discs of deliciousness, about 5 - 6 cm in diameter, and about ½ cm thick. Her recipe is in Imperial measure. I have converted. (Tom's Top Tip Be very careful if converting from Imperial to metric. It is a common error to equate 1 ounce with 25 grams. It is in fact 28.)

Ingredients (makes about 40 biscuits in total)

84g (3oz) caster sugar; 224g (8oz) butter; 112g (4oz) cornflour; 224g (8oz) plain flour; 1tbsp lavender flowers (carefully separated, husks removed); 1 ball of stem ginger in syrup, drained, dried and very finely chopped.


A traditional Scottish housewife would have all the ingredients on a board in piles and gradually incorporate them all together. Lesley prefers to do it in stages. Cream the butter and sugar together then add the cornflour, then the plain flour. Squish (that's a technical term) together to form a dough.

Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. Flour the board. Take one of the three pieces and mix in the lavender flowers making sure they are evenly spread. Roll to however thick you wish the biscuits to be and cut with a scone cutter. Place on a floured baking tray and put in the fridge to firm for about quarter of an hour.

Repeat the process with the next third, mix in the finely chopped ginger etc.

Finally roll the last third and cut your last batch of plain biscuits.

Place in the preheated oven 130˚C/Mark 1  for about an hour. Switch off the oven, leaving the biscuits in to cool. Place on a wire tray and dust lightly with icing sugar. Eat.




  1. Lesley on 17th July 2020 at 11:14 am

    Very complimentary but women of my age can bake. Just sayin’.

    • Tom Johnston on 17th July 2020 at 11:20 am

      Not all of them.

  2. Alison on 17th July 2020 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks for the recipe. Don’t bother sending me one now I will try this myself.

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