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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- Orange Chocolate Shortbread Cookies.
- Almond Shortbread
- “Peanut Butter” Chocolate Chip Cookies (allergy-friendly!)
- Frosted Sugar Cookies
- Pistachio Butter Cookies
Recipe updated October 12, 2021.
Classic Shortbread Cookies
To prevent having dry cookies, be sure to measure your flour by spooning it into the measuring cup and then leveling it off with the back of a table knife. Better than that, use a scale!
These cookies actually improve in flavor as they sit. They're more tender and buttery the day after they are baked.
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
Heat the oven and prepare the baking sheets:
Preheat the oven to 325°F and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
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 forms one mass the bowl. If it's not doing that, keep going in 10-second increments until it does. The dough is ready when the it clumps together when pressed.
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. If it's still crumbly, keep kneading it with your hands until it makes a cohesive dough, or pop it back in the food processor for a few more pulses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 5g||7%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||16%|
|Total Carbohydrate 9g||3%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||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.|