Classic Shortbread Cookies

Take your cookie plate to a new level with these buttery, crisp, and utterly delicious classic shortbread cookies! Easy to share, but we won't blame you for keeping them all to yourself.

A stack of shortbread cookies stacked on a cooling rack next to a mug of coffee
Cindy Rahe

Shortbread is a celebration of simplicity—a combination of butter, sugar, and flour that adds up to so much more.

Shortbread was one of the first baking projects I ever tackled—at a friend’s house in 4th grade under the intense supervision of her mother. I don’t remember much about the cookies but I do remember thinking they were pretty basic. I mean where were the chocolate chips?

Video: How to Make Shortbread Cookies

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Classic Shortbread Cookies

What Is Shortbread?

The “short” part of shortbread refers to the lack of gluten development in this cookie. Liquid activates gluten, but because there’s no liquid in the recipe (and a lot of fat), the gluten doesn’t have a chance to develop into long strands of protein that, in turn, give other baked goods their chewy texture.

Since the gluten is kept “short,” we get a tender, crumbly cookie that melts in the mouth.

Round shortbread cookies on a cooling rack
Cindy Rahe

The Best Butter for Shortbread

A note on butter—you can make delicious shortbread using whatever butter you normally buy, but if you enjoy the flavor of butter, I would suggest using a premium European-style butter. My personal favorite is Kerrygold.

European butters tend to be denser (aka more fat, less water) than the usual supermarket butter, and make a richly colored and flavored shortbread. I’ve tested this recipe using both types with excellent results!

My only note for European-style butter is to either be sure to find unsalted butter or reduce the salt in the recipe if using salted butter.

Shortbread cookies recipe
Cindy Rahe

Don't Overwork the Dough!

Even though we’re using a short dough, it’s possible to overwork the dough, causing the cookies to become tough. The best way to avoid a tough cookie is to not handle the dough too much.

A food processor makes quick work of combining the ingredients and prevents me from overworking the dough.

When I make cutout cookies, I try to cut as many cookies as I can the first time, so I only regather the scraps and reroll the dough once.

Swaps and Substitutions for Shortbread

Shortbread’s simplicity lends it to endless adaptations:

  • You can pretty much shape it any way. Roll it into a log and slice, roll out and either cut into a grid or stamp out with cookie cutters, press it into a round cake pan and score into wedges before baking, or if you’re fancy and have cookie molds you can press the dough into those for an intricate design.
  • You can also flavor shortbread with all sorts of ingredients, from tea leaves, matcha, dried fruit powders, nuts, and chocolate.

I personally love a nutty shortbread—walnut is my favorite! I love the slight bitterness of the walnuts with the sweet, buttery shortbread. Whenever I add nuts or even chocolate, I grind (or grate) it fairly small. In the case of a nutty shortbread, I aim for the flavor to be a part of the dough, as opposed to a mix-in. I also find large chunks disrupt the shape of cut-outs.

Shortbread cookie recipe
Cindy Rahe

How to Store Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread is a great cookie-jar cookie, in that it keeps well at room temperature for several days. I live in the desert, so I keep them in a container to prevent them from drying out—however, when I lived in Michigan and Oregon, the humidity was the enemy. There, I found that storing cookies in a lidded container with a silica gel packet (I just save these from other food packages) keeps the humidity at bay.

These cookies also freeze well, and I freeze them in a freezer bag that I have pressed as much air out of as possible. They will keep for a month or more, but honestly, we never have them around that long.

Love a Good Cookie? Give These A try!

Recipe updated October 12, 2021.

Classic Shortbread Cookies

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Servings 36 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (256 g) all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup (115 g) powdered sugar

  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, room temp and cut into pieces

Method

  1. Heat the oven and prepare the baking sheets:

    Preheat the oven to 325°F and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.

  2. Combine all the ingredients:

    Place the flour, powdered sugar, salt, and butter into the bowl of a food processor. Process for 30 seconds to 60 seconds. Stop when the mixture clumps up in one mass the bowl. It’s ready when the dough clumps together when pressed.

    Ingredients for shortbread cookies: Butter, powdered sugar, flour
    Cindy Rahe
    Combine the flour, sugar, and butter in a food processor for the shortbread cookie recipe
    Cindy Rahe
  3. Bring the dough together:

    Dump the dough onto the counter and gently press it together. Lightly knead the dough a few times and form it into a square shape.

  4. Chill the dough:

    If the dough is quite soft, chill it in the refrigerator for 10 to 20 minutes, until it's cool but still pliable.

  5. Roll and cut the dough:

    Roll the dough out on a well-floured surface to a 1/4- to 1/2-inch thickness (depending on how thick you like your cookies) and either use a knife to cut out rectangles or use a cutter to make shapes.

    Roll out the dough for shortbread cookies with a rolling pin
    Cindy Rahe
    Alternatively, trim the edges of the cookie dough and cut the shortbread cookies into squares
    Cindy Rahe
    Cut the shortbread cookie dough into squares
    Cindy Rahe
    cut shapes from the shortbread cookie dough
    Cindy Rahe
  6. Transfer and chill the cookies:

    Transfer the cookies to one of the parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill the cookies on the sheet pan in the freezer for 15 minutes or until the cookies are solid to the touch.

    Transfer the frozen cookies, in batches, onto the other baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch between each cookie.

  7. Bake the cookies:

    Bake the cookies, one pan at a time, for 18 to 23 minutes, or until the cookies are dry to the touch and the bottoms just begin to turn golden.

  8. Cool and store:

    Remove from the oven and cool on a rack before transferring to a container for storage. The baked and cooled cookies can be stored in an airtight container for several days.

    Shortbread cookies cooling on a wire rack
    Cindy Rahe
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
84 Calories
5g Fat
9g Carbs
1g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 36
Amount per serving
Calories 84
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 5g 7%
Saturated Fat 3g 16%
Cholesterol 14mg 5%
Sodium 27mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 9g 3%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 3mg 0%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 9mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.