Classic Shortbread Cookies
This classic shortbread cookie recipe only calls for 4 ingredients that you likely already have on hand. These old-fashioned buttery cookies are perfect on their own, or they can be dipped in chocolate, or made into a sandwich cookie!
Shortbread Cookie Recipe Overview
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Techniques Used: Creaming Method for Cookies
Shortbread cookies are not only one of the simplest cookies you can make, but they are by far my favorite cookie ever. I just love how simply sweet and buttery they are.
A classic shortbread cookie is made with only four ingredients: butter, sugar, salt, and flour. It is common to add in a bit of vanilla into the dough as well, but you can really flavor then with any spices and extracts you like!
Shortbread cookies are delicious one their own as a simple dessert, but they are also perfect for dipping in chocolate, or making into sandwich cookies with a filling like lemon curd or jam. I also love to use shortbread as a tart crust.
Why is shortbread called shortbread?
Fat works in baking to shorten gluten strands. This is actually where the vegetable fat “shortening” gets its name. Because shortbread cookies have a high ratio of butter (fat) in them, they are very light and tender and this is where the name shortbread comes from.
What is the Difference Between Shortbread Cookies, Butter Cookies, and Sugar Cookies
Shortbread cookies, butter cookies, and sugar cookies are all closely related but they do have a few differences. Shortbread cookies have the highest ratio of butter in them. This makes shortbread cookies the butteriest in flavor and also the crumbliest texture.
Butter cookies have the same ingredients as shortbread cookies (butter, sugar, salt, and flour) however the sugar and flour ratio is slightly higher in these cookies compared to shortbread cookies. Butter cookies taste slightly sweeter and also hold their shape a bit better than shortbread cookies. Butter cookies are often used for cutout cookies because of this.
Sugar cookies typically include the addition of eggs and sometimes baking powder. Sugar cookies also have an even higher ratio of sugar and flour compared to shortbread and butter cookies.
How to Make Shortbread Cookies
Shortbread cookies are made with the basic creaming method. The come together very quickly and easily.
Step 1: Cream Together the Butter and Sugar
It is very important to start with room temperature butter for your shortbread cookies. This is essential for properly creaming the butter together with the sugar. Cream the two together until it is very light and fluffy.
Step 2: Mix in the Salt (and Flavorings if Using)
Mix in the salt and vanilla extract if using. You could also use a different extract like almond extract, lemon extract, or various spices if you like.
Step 3: Mix in the Flour
Add the flour to your dough and mix until it is just incorporated. You don’t want to over-mix here. The more you mix the more tough your cookies will become.
Step 4: Chill the Dough
Press the dough out on a piece of parchment paper to about 1/2″ thick. Allow the dough to chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to firm up. This will ensure that the cookies will not spread too much in the oven.
Step 5: Cut out Your Dough
Roll the dough out to about 1/4″ thick and then use a cookie cuter to cut out your cookies. I like to use a cuter with scalloped edges for a classic look. Alternatively you can press the dough into a circle and cut it out into thin wedges, like a pie.
Place the cut out cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and prick them with a fork. This will keep them from puffing up in the oven and will keep them flat. Dust them with a bit of granulated sugar.
Step 6: Bake
Bake the cookies until just slightly golden brown and set. Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Once cooled, you can dip them in melted chocolate or keep them plain.
Ingredients in Shortbread Cookies
- Butter is used in a high ratio in shortbread cookies to create a very buttery flavor and a crumbly texture. The butter also makes the cookies very tender.
- Granulated sugar sweetens the cookies and also is creamed together with the butter to create a light texture for the cookies.
- Salt rounds out the flavors and helps the cookies not taste flat.
- Flour is the main structure for the cookie and helps it hold its shape.
Basic Shortbread Cookies
This classic shortbread cookie recipe calls for only 4 ingredients and results in deliciously buttery and slightly sweet cookies! The cookies are delicious plain, or can be dipped in chocolate, or made into a sandwich cookie with jam or lemon curd.
- 2 sticks (1 cup, 220 gr) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup (100 gr) granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (*optional)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 1/3 cup (280 gr) all-purpose flour
- In the bowl or a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, or a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. About 4 minutes.
- Mix in the salt and vanilla if using.
- Add the flour to the mixing bowl and mix on medium/low speed until just incorporated.
- Press the dough out on a piece of parchment paper to about 1/2-inch thick. Dover and chill the dough in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
- Roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thick and stamp out with cookie cutters.
- Place the cutout cookies on parchment lined baking sheets and prick each cookie with a fork several times. Sprinkle more sugar over the top.
- Bake for 8-12 minutes until lightly browned and set.
- Allow to cool completely before dipping in chocolate or sandwiching.
- Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for 7-10 days. If you created sandwich cookies, store them in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
20 Comments on “Classic Shortbread Cookies”
Shortbread are generally not my fave but these are so perfect and beautiful!
Thank you sweet friend! I love their simplicity!
Hi- I tried the short bread cookie. Loved how simple it was. When I tasted, they were tasting great in the beginning, But left a bitter taste in the end.. why was that? Do you know what could have gone wrong?
I’m helping with nieces wedding I’ve been looking for something unique, simple and magical flavors.im going to make these and substitute the powdered sugar. Making the strawberry lemon curd.. Hoping it makes a nice pairing on brides table..doing test run first..thank you to all of you the original recipe and those that made comments also..I’m excited to try this.
That is so nice of you Sherry! This would be lovely for a wedding.
I’ve found that my all time favorite shortbread recipes always call for powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar, do you think this recipe would work that way?
Hi Meribeth! I have never made this recipe with powdered sugar before so it is hard to be 100% certain. But it should work as long as you follow the ratio of substituting 1 3/4 cup packed powdered sugar for every 1 cup of sugar a recipe calls for. So since this recipe only calls for 1/2 cup granulated sugar you would want to use 3/4 cup plus 2 TBSP packed powdered sugar. I hope that helps!
I want to make this recipe, and since this recipe only calls for 5 ingredients, will it work with no vanilla extract? I don’t have vanilla on-hand. Thanks
I just read your How To Create Your Own Original Cookie And Science article, and it says no vanilla will do. Could you check for me? Thanks
Hi Alice! Vanilla (or any extracts) always only serve the purpose to flavor the baked good. Vanilla can definitely be left out. This cookie will taste like a slightly sweet buttery cookie without the vanilla. Will be great!
Wondering if the dough can be made in advance and frozen for few weeks
Hi Sherry! Yes you can do that! Just wrap it very well.
Hi Bettie! Shortbread truly is my favorite. The recipe I use is pretty much the same as yours. I do have a science question for you. I just always used store bought American style, unsalted butter. I want to try it with a European style butter. I happen to serve it one night (unbeknownst to my family) in place of the regular butter and they noticed a difference in the taste- they loved it! It got me thinking about using it in my shortbread and butter cookies because of the taste. My understanding is that it has a lower water content than American style butter and I’m wondering if I should adjust the amount of flour due to the decrease in moisture or is it such a small difference that it doesn’t matter. Are there any other ways a higher fat content butter would affect the cookie? I’m sorry if you have answered this somewhere in the website or Facebook. I didn’t see it.
Thank you for your time and expertise!
Hi Claire! Yes you can substitute in European style butter! You don’t need to make any adjustments. The difference will make the cookies a bit more rich, but it won’t be enough of a change that you really need to adjust the recipe!
Hi I am a bit stumped both my two daughters have been doing our shopping for us in lockdown. They go alternate weekly and we text them a list or shall I say my husband texts them the list. On our fourth week in lockdown I have three bags of plain flour but no self raising flour. Both of our daughters said “dad just said flour” so we just grabbed the first we found. It is very precious in our area so could I use plain flour to make your shortbread and do I need to add anything thank you Now my husband has said he will bake some for me as it was his fault for not putting the self rising flour. I fear for my kitchen. ♀️
Just curious about two things. Are you using plain enriched flour or self-rising? And secondly, what would you think about a VERY light sprinkle of struesel topping? Two sweet? Too much? I just wanted to make these a tiny bit different from the plain shortbread or granulated sugar dust. Thanks.
My shortbread cookies spread out flat. I usually follow your recipes to the letter including weighing my ingredients.
Did you try freezing them before baking? Cut out your shapes and place on your sheet tray and then freeze for 10 or so minutes. That will help if you bake from frozen.
I refrigerated only once before cutting shapes. I will try again this weekend and try freezing. The taste was fabulous although the look was not pretty.
Thank you for your help.
Good luck! Going into the oven with frozen shapes will definitely help.