Millionaire's Shortbread: The Cookie That's Layered With Sweetness

With a name like Millionaire's Shortbread, you know that this cookie recipe dates back to a time when millions of dollars meant a lot more than they do in these inflationary times. Mere millionaires aren't all that impressive anymore, so instead we have recipes like Snoop Dogg's Billionaire's Bacon. (Wishful thinking on Snoop's part, as he's almost $850k short of that mark, and since he's married, he can't even expedite the process by dating a Kardashian or two.) Even if the millionaire name no longer conjures up quite so luxurious a lifestyle as it did in times gone by, the cookies themselves are still just as appealing to those who like their desserts super sweet.

As shortbread on its own can be rather plain and isn't always all that sweet — it's a cookie known more for its tender, buttery texture than any kind of flashy flavor — Millionaire's Shortbread ups the ante with layers of caramel and chocolate. The result isn't so much a cookie meant to be dunked in your tea but rather something that may need a whole glass of milk to wash down for anyone who's not a hardcore sugar fan.

History of Millionaire's Shortbread

Millionaire's Shortbread has a very historic base — the shortbread cookie base, that is. This Scottish specialty may date back as far as the 12th century and in later years was said to have been a favorite of Mary, Queen of Scots. Back in her day (that being the 16th century), shortbread cookies were flavored with caraway seeds, and by the 19th century, there was a fad for embellishing them with nuts and candied citrus peel. Shortbread didn't enter the six-figure income bracket until sometime in the 20th century, though, and Millionaire's Shortbread's origins are still somewhat ambiguous.

In 1970, a magazine called the Australian Women's Weekly (published, unsurprisingly, in Australia) printed directions for making caramel shortbread that some seem to regard as the urtext of Millionaire's Shortbread recipes. The problem with this origin story is that the recipe contains no chocolate, while a condensed milk caramel recipe from a 1953 issue of the Adelaide Advertiser also advocates using the stuff to top a shortbread base. The Scots, however, claim to be the first to have come up with the name Millionaire's Shortbread, a fact the Australians don't seem to dispute. If they were also the first to add chocolate, then it seems they can actually claim bragging rights for every part of the dish. Because many cookbooks from 50+ years ago have not been digitized, though, it's hard to say with absolute certainty, so we won't be taking a side in this bi-hemispherical debate.

How Millionaire's Shortbread is made

The first step in making Millionaire's Shortbread is to make regular old 99%-ers shortbread, something that can be done with no more than three ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter. No leavening is required, nor any additional flavoring, although some recipes (including our own shortbread cookies) may call for either or both, while others may even go to the lengths of having you use unsalted butter and adding the salt yourself. (Go figure.)

Once the cookie base is baked and cooled, you pile on some caramel topping. This is typically made from sweetened condensed milk and butter and is further sweetened with the addition of either golden syrup (if you're in the U.K.) or light corn syrup (if you're not). The final layer that tops off Millionaire's Shortbread is made of nothing more than melted chocolate. Some recipes call for using the semisweet kind (a standard bag of chocolate chips would work just fine), but others use milk or even white chocolate. The melted chocolate is smeared over the caramel and the cookies are left to sit until it sets up. At this point, you cut them into bars and eat them while dreaming up ways to spend your imaginary lottery winnings.

How to upgrade your Millionaire's Shortbread

While your basic Millionaire's Shortbread consists of nothing more than those three elements we named above — shortbread base, caramel middle, and chocolate topping — you know people are going to gild that lily. Some people add peanut butter to the caramel, while others add chopped nuts and dried fruit. There's even a Middle Eastern-inspired version made with halvah and tahini, while the marketing department at Drambuie, another Scottish product, has shared a recipe for Millionaire's Shortbread made with their sweet whiskey-based liqueur because of course they have.

A few Millionaire's Shortbread spins have names that play on a financial theme. One of these, Billionaire's Shortbread, is nothing more than Millionaire's Shortbread made with salted caramel or sprinkled with flaky salt. Trillionaire's Shortbread, at least according to one recipe, is a triple chocolate concoction with a cocoa shortbread base, chocolate caramel filling, and ganache topping. Oh, and let's not forget Poor Folks Shortbread, which is made with generic dollar-store shortbread cookies topped with equally cheap caramel and chocolate candies. Okay, so that's not a thing yet since we just made it up, but hey, every recipe's got to start somewhere. Who knows? Someday people may even start calling our made-up concoction "iconic." (For the record, though, the term should never be applied to anything or anyone other than the wrestling icon Sting.)

Where to buy Millionaire's Shortbread

In keeping with the fact that Millionaire's Shortbread is a recipe Scotland claims as its own, these cookies are something that can be purchased through importers such as Scottish Gourmet USA, Brit Superstore, and Britalicious. It's also available for online purchase via Amazon (of course) and Etsy, while subscribers to meal delivery service Blue Apron may see it available as an add-on.

There are several U.S. bakeries, too, that list Millionaire's Shortbread as one of their specialties. Among these establishments are the Cream Bakery in River Vale, New Jersey; Mindy's Bakery in Chicago; GreenIsland Bakery in Washington, DC; Ackroyd's Scottish Bakery in Detroit; and Shortbread Society in Jersey City, New Jersey. The last bakery on that list even offers varieties such as Cherry Bakewell, Snickers, Twix, Double Stuffed Oreo, and Baileys Irish Cream Millionaire's Shortbreads along with a Billionaire's Shortbread that appears to be topped with gold dust. These shortbreads may be available for shipping nationwide via Goldbelly, and you can buy Ackroyd's cookies through that bakery's Amazon storefront.