Shortbread is a crisp-crumbly butter cookie. The centuries-old cookie is famously Scottish but now loved around the world. It’s most popular around the holidays, but just as welcome dipped in coffee on a Sunday afternoon.
These shortbread cookies have an exciting play between sugar and salt that when mixed with their buttery flavor and crumbly texture are tantalizing and delicious. Humbly beautiful on their own with tea or coffee, they can also be sandwiched with jam, covered with glaze, or flavored with an endless list of mix-ins.
At its most basic, shortbread is a cookie made from flour, butter, and sugar. The cookie gets its name from its “short” texture. The high butter content and absence of liquids in the dough limit gluten development for tender, crumbly cookies rich with butter.
Shortbread Cookies Tips and Tricks
With only three essential ingredients, shortbread cookies may be one of the simplest recipes you’ll bake. However, this dough can be a bit sticky, especially when warm.
- To roll it out, make sure it has chilled for at least 30 minutes. If you’re worried about it sticking to your counter, you can try rolling it between two sheets of parchment paper. This is handy because it’s easy to transfer the dough back into the fridge if it gets too warm.
- If the dough sticks to your work surface and you’re struggling to free the cut-out cookies, use a small offset spatula or another flat spatula to gently scrape under the cookie and carefully lift them off your work surface.
If you’re worried about the dough sticking or you have less time, you can make slice-and-bake shortbread or bake shortbread wedges in cake pans.
- For slice and bake cookies, gather the dough and form it into a log. Wrap the dough in plastic or parchment paper and chill for at least 1 hour. Slice cookies between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick and bake.
- To bake shortbread wedges, you can even skip chilling the dough. Divide the dough between two parchment-lined 8-inch round cake pans, compressing the dough into an even layer. Bake for about 30 minutes at 325°F. Let the shortbread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then use the parchment to lift it out. Slice the shortbread while still warm.
A Note on Butter and Salt
With almost as much butter by weight as flour, the secret to flavorful shortbread cookies is flavorful butter. For these cookies, I prefer to use Kerrygold European-style butter, which has a higher butterfat content and a richer flavor. Look for a brand that has at least 82% butterfat. Kerrygold is my personal favorite. To pick an alternative you can do the math from the information on the back of the package, but many brands have started advertising this number.
The best shortbread cookies have a playful balance between salt and sweet. They have a noticeable sparkle of saltiness, but they’re still fundamentally a sweet cookie. The amount listed in this recipe is for Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt and unsalted butter. If you’re using Maldon, table salt, or salted butter, reduce the amount to 1/4 teaspoon. The right balance between sweet and salty is often personal, so feel free to adjust to your own taste.
Can You Decorate Shortbread Cookies?
Sugar cookies tend to be the go-to cookie for decorating, but shortbread cookies are just as good of a canvas. If you prefer a crisper, buttery cookie, why not try shortbreads instead?
- Add sprinkles: Sprinkle some coarse sugar, granulated sugar, or sprinkles over the cookies before baking them for some extra crunch or a splash of color.
- Make a glaze: In a small bowl whisk together 1 cup of powdered sugar with 2 to 3 tablespoons of milk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Dip the tops of the cookies in the glaze and set them on a wire rack to set. You can try a lemon glaze by substituting lemon juice for the milk and lemon zest for the vanilla extract.
- Royal icing: Take your cookie decorating to the next level with royal icing. Try your hand at some of these bakery-level techniques for beautiful, professional-looking decorations.
Make-Ahead Shortbread Cookies
When you’ve got a busy schedule, it can be difficult to work on a baking project from start to finish. Luckily, shortbread cookies are simple to make with many opportunities to pause and start back up later.
- Shortbread cookie dough, wrapped airtight, keeps for 1 week in the refrigerator or for up to 1 month in the freezer. Let the dough thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
- To really get ahead, you can freeze the unbaked, cut-out cookies on a baking tray. You can bake them directly from frozen, though it may take a few minutes longer.
Shortbread Cookies Are Excellent for Freezing
Shortbread cookies are excellent for freezing. After they are baked and cooled completely, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer to freeze them. Once frozen, transfer them into a freezer bag. Baked shortbread cookies can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 month. To thaw, remove them from the freezer bag and place them on a plate or baking sheet at room temperature.
More Easy Cookie Recipes
- Marzipan Shortbread Cookies
- Lime Icebox Cookies
- Slice-and-Bake Pistachio Butter Cookies
- Butter Cookies
- Benne Wafers
Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt:
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add the flour:
Add the flour and mix on low speed until it forms a stiff dough. The dough might seem too dry at first but keep beating, stopping half way through to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Stop mixing as soon as it comes together.
Chill the dough:
For cut-out cookies: Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl onto the plastic wrap. Shape the dough into a disk about 1-inch thick. You can use the plastic to help shape the dough without it sticking to your hands. Seal the dough in the plastic and place it in the refrigerator to chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.
For slice-and-bake cookies: Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl onto the plastic wrap. Shape the dough into a log about 2 1/2-inch in diameter. You can use the plastic to help shape the dough without it sticking to your hands. Seal the dough in the plastic and place it in the refrigerator to chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
Arrange oven racks, preheat the oven, and prepare baking sheets:
Arrange racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cut out the cookies:
For cut-out cookies: Dust your work surface generously with flour. If the dough feels too stiff to roll easily, gently press the rolling pin firmly into the dough repeatedly tapping over the whole surface of the dough to make it more pliable. Roll the dough to 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick, rolling from the center outward in all directions. Lift and rotate a bit after every few strokes and dust with flour as needed to discourage sticking.
Cut out cookies using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter. Space the cookies about 1-inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. The scraps can be gathered a couple more times to roll and cut out more cookies.
For slice-and-bake-cookies: Use a sharp knife to slice cookies about 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. Space the cookies about 1-inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
Bake cookies until they start to turn lightly golden on the bottom and edges, about 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. The middle of the cookies should look matte and feel dry to the touch. The baking time will depend on how thick the cookies are. For larger cookies you may need more time, start with an extra 5 minutes.
Cool and enjoy:
Allow the cookies to cool on the pans for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Shortbread cookies can be stored in an airtight container on the counter for up to 1 week. It’s hard to believe they get even better, but the buttery flavor actually improves over time.
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