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Cornmeal shortbread

Updated: Tue, 1 August, 2023

Lemon cornmeal shortbreads, pale golden and delicately sugared, are the best thing to dunk in your tea or coffee. These are gluten free to boot, not that you’d tell.

cornmeal shortbread

To dunk or not to dunk?

I am personally of the non-dunking orientation, at least since I lost a few biscuits to my coffee over the years rendering both uningestible. What’s more, I don’t drink black tea and the true, original and orthodox dunkers only ever accept tea: milk, no sugar.

Which may well suggest dunking is an intrinsically English pastime but it isn’t so by any means. The French dunk like crazy: croissants in their coffee, brioche in hot chocolate and even buttered baguette in café au lait.

The Italians dip bread in red wine, a clear proof you can never take the Church out of an Italian, and cake in white dessert wine.

They dunk across the water: Oreos in milk (US) and chips in gravy (Canada).

lemon cornmeal shortbread biscuits

The best dunkables

There are obviously clashing opinions on what is and isn’t suitable for dunking but I should agree with the purists: the best dunking material will not leave any residue in the beverage. Thus I wouldn’t dip my sandwich in my coffee, leaking butter and almost turning it into bulletproof coffee.

It’s tricky with Italian biscotti or cantuccini because, hard as they are, their dissolving point comes on suddenly and brutally, presenting you with frothy soup if you miss the sweet point.

Apart from sponge fingers that I rate as mighty good dunkers, shortbread is definitely the best.

It doesn’t usually have any annoying currants or, worse, chocolate chips. It’s plain and firm but doesn’t explode into nothing like biscotti. It takes up the liquid gradually, making it easy for lovers of varied stages of soakedness to decide when to stop the waterboarding and eat the victim.

gluten free shortbread

Shortbread the dunk-king

And this is gluten free on top: not the gluten free that makes you decide you’d rather not have any biscuits at all than the ersatz stuff, but the type that you want to make again and again even though gluten’s your good mate.

Cornmeal makes for this wonderful texture in the cookies: gritty but in a nice way, very short but tender too and it seems to carry the lemon flavour like an angel. Now all you need to do is put the kettle on!

But before you do, it would be good to make a batch, obviously.

lemon shortbread cookies

Cornmeal – but what the heck is it?

Cornmeal, cornflour, cornstarch and polenta to boot: it could be confusing, especially that the terminology used in the UK is different from that in the United States.

Cornmeal is a coarse, gritty powder made from dried corn. It is ground from the entire corn kernel and has a texture that ranges from fine to medium. Cornmeal is used in baking and cooking various dishes like cornbread, muffins or biscuits, as well as a coating for frying meat, fish etc.

Cornflour (UK) or cornstarch (US) is a fine white powder milled from the endosperm of the corn kernel. It is used primarily as a thickening agent in cooking and baking. When mixed with water, it forms a smooth, lump-free paste that can be added to sauces, soups and desserts to thicken them.

Polenta is cornmeal in Italian; also a traditional Italian dish made from said cornmeal/polenta. Polenta can be prepared in various ways, but it is commonly boiled in water or stock until it becomes thick and creamy. Once cooked, it can be served as a side dish, often topped with cheese, butter, or other savoury ingredients. Polenta has a comforting, porridge-like consistency and is a popular side dish in Italian cuisine. Once cooked and cooled to set, it can also be baked into crispy chips.

How to make cornmeal shortbread dough?

To make it gluten free, use equal quantity of cornmeal and rice flour; otherwise you can use plain flour to mix with cornmeal.

Either way, it is a simple process: cold, diced butter is rubbed into dry ingredients, then a beaten egg works as a binding agent to form the dough. Which has to rest in the fridge for an hour and up to overnight.

cornmeal shortcrust pastry

When ready to bake, you can use a biscuit shortcut instead of the cutting process: shape the pastry into a log and slice biscuits with a sharp knife. Otherwise roll it out on a flour-dusted surface to about 1 cm thick, and cut out pretty shapes.

cutting cornmeal cookies

They will bake after briefly chilling them again, for about a quarter of an hour. They’ll look even prettier if you sprinkle them with caster or granulated sugar while still warm.

icing cornmeal shortbreads

As all shortbreads do, they will soften a little after being kept in an airtight jar for a week or so. But do they ever last that long?

More cornmeal recipes

Buttery cornmeal muffins with glace cherries, gluten free but wholly satisfying. Crunchy around the edges, and the jewelled glace cherries intersperse the rich yellow cornmeal crumb.

Blueberry cornmeal shortbread tart is really a pie, only with a crisp topping. It’s a crumble but has a bottom crust. It’s shortbread with a wonderful savoury tang from cornmeal. Blind baked – yes, but with fresh fruit filling.

Cornmeal, bacon and sweetcorn muffins. These savoury cornmeal and bacon muffins are a great breakfast or brunch food, with the double corn content: cornmeal or polenta in the mix and sweetcorn added in.

More shortbread recipes

Date shortbread bars, shortcrust slices sandwiched with date, cinnamon and orange filling. Good shortcrust pastry with naturally sweet filling is great for a treat.

Classic shortbread biscuits sprinkled with sugar. This shortbread is made the easiest way: with melted butter, mixed with a spoon. And it's the best shortbread recipe!

Maple shortbread bars with almonds and pistachios. This recipe is a variation of maple pecan squares, with almonds and pistachios replacing pecans. Maple shortcrust slices are easy to make and delicious dessert bars.

lemon flavoured shortbread cookies

Cornmeal shortbread

Servings: makes 15-20 biscuitsTime: 30 minutes plus chilling pastry


  • 100g (scant cup) fine cornmeal plus more for dusting
  • 100g (23 cup) brown rice flour
  • 70g (12 cup) icing sugar
  • 12 tsp salt
  • zest grated from 1 lemon
  • 100g (7 tbsp) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • caster sugar, to sprinkle


1. Stir the cornmeal with rice flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest together in a bowl.

2. Dice the cold butter and rub it in with your fingers (or use a mixer) so the mix resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

3. Lightly beat the egg and stir it in with a spatula till it comes together in a pastry ball. Wrap with cling film and chill for at least an hour, or overnight.

4. Dust the work surface with cornmeal. Roll the pastry out into a disc, dusting with more cornmeal, about 1cm thick.

5. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Transfer the sheet into the fridge for 15 minutes, while the oven heats up to 180C/350F/gas 4.

6. Bake the shortbreads for 15 minutes until very faintly brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and sift caster sugar over the biscuits generously. Leave to cool.

7. Store in a jar for a week; they will soften slightly as they sit in the jar or tin.

Originally published: Thu, 6 February, 2020

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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