Here’s all you need to know about making the BEST Shortbread Cookies! Buttery, crumbly and light – classic shortbread cookies are one of a kind, and you only need a minimum of 3 ingredients (butter, sugar, flour) to make them!
I’ve provided plenty of tips to help you make PERFECT classic shortbread cookies, as well as the softer Scottish shortbread cookies.
I kicked off cookie season the other day with my Classic Thumbprint Cookies recipe, and today, I’ve got in store another one of my absolute favorite cookie recipes. Classic Shortbread Cookies and I go back a loooooong way! I’ve been baking these cookies for as long as I can remember, so I thought I’d share with you guys my basic recipe for classic shortbread cookies. Once you nail this recipe, switching it up with other flavors and ingredients is simple.
So let’s start at the beginning.
What are shortbread cookies?
Just like shortcake or shortcrust pastry, shortbread cookies get their “short” prefix because of the crumbly texture. The large amount of butter in the cookies makes them crumbly, while also giving them a nice buttery flavor.
Shortbread cookies are insanely popular throughout the world. They originated in Scotland. They are typically thick, and cooked at low temperature, resulting in delightfully buttery and crumbly cookies.
Shortbread cookies today come in different shapes and forms. You can shape them into wedges (the classic shape), or into fingers (my favorite), circles, or use cookie cutters to get whatever shape you fancy.
And instead of regular buttery shortbread cookies, you can make flavored shortbread cookies, or dip them in chocolate and add nuts or sprinkles!
So, let’s look at how to make butter shortbread cookies and also how to make Scottish shortbread cookies.
How to make butter shortbread cookies
THREE basic ingredients are all you need to make classic shortbread cookies.
- Butter (usually unsalted)
- Sugar (caster sugar is better)
You can make perfect classic shortbread cookies with just these three ingredients. But you can also change up the flavor and texture of these ingredients to make these shortbread cookies taste even better. Here’s how.
The one thing that you shouldn’t skimp on with shortbread cookies is the butter. They are butter shortbread cookies after all. So use a GOOD QUALITY butter, because the flavor of butter is first and foremost in classic shortbread cookies. European butter is even better, because it has a better taste AND has less water than other types of butter. More fat in the butter makes for a better tasting butter, which means you can make a better tasting shortbread cookie.
To enhance the butter flavor even further, you could melt it and toast it to turn it into brown butter. But, if you do that, remember to return the brown butter to the fridge so that it hardens again, and you will need to re-measure the butter as well. Never make shortbread cookies with melted butter!
Salt is also a crucial ingredient when it comes to baking, because it can coax out more flavor from your baked goods. You can make these shortbread cookies with good quality salted butter if you like, but I prefer to add salt separately as I mix the unsalted butter. This lets me control the amount of salt I add to the butter, AND I can use a clean tasting sea salt as well. That way you get the best of both ingredients. Another reason is that salted butter has MORE water content than unsalted butter, and that can have an impact on the taste.
Caster sugar (or superfine sugar or baker’s sugar) is the sweetener of choice for me for these cookies. The fine sugar granules dissolve in the butter a lot faster, and this is crucial for shortbread cookies. Undissolved sugar crystals in the dough can cause the cookies to spread too much as they dissolve in the oven, and change the texture of the cookies.
Even if you can’t find superfine sugar, no worries – you can simply use regular granulated sugar and then process it in a blender or food processor for a few seconds or up to a minute to make it finer.
You CAN also use confectioner’s sugar for this recipe. But remember confectioner’s sugar is a mixture of sugar and cornstarch. So, instead of using 4 oz of sugar, you’d have to use 5 oz of confectioner’s sugar to achieve the same level of sweetness. This might make your shortbread cookies a little crumblier than usual, since the amount of flour will be the same. But it won’t take away from the flavor though!
You can make the most amazing butter shortbread cookies with just AP flour, mixed in with butter and sugar. This is how shortbread cookies were always made.
However, I like to replace SOME of the flour with rice flour or cornstarch. The reason is that rice flour or cornstarch changes the texture of these cookies and makes them lighter, with a nicer, melt in your mouth texture.
If I have rice flour at home, then that’s my first choice. If not, then I’ll use cornstarch. If I have neither, then I’ll just stick with all AP flour. This is just a simple way for you change up your shortbread cookie game, and alter their flavor and texture.
It’s this short list of ingredients that makes classic shortbread cookies different from sugar cookies too. Sugar cookies also include flavoring, eggs and a leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder. Shortbread cookies do NOT contain eggs or a leavening agent, although flavoring can certainly be added. And as the name implies, sugar cookies have a higher sugar content and are sweeter, and also lighter and more crisp as well.
So how do you make Homemade Shortbread Cookies?
Now that you know what goes into easy shortbread cookies, let’s talk about how to make them, step by step, with some tips and tricks to make it easier for you!
The first step, is creaming the butter. But make sure NOT to incorporate too much air into the butter when you do this. The more air you introduce, the more spreading that will occur as the cookies are baked. So beat the butter just enough to make it nice and creamy, but not fluffy. I like to add the salt at the same time as I cream the butter, but you can add it along with the sugar in the next step as well.
The second step, is adding the sugar. And since you want to avoid incorporating too much air, it’s important that the sugar dissolves easily into the butter as well. This is where superfine sugar really helps. It mixes and dissolves quickly, leaving no unsightly, undissolved granules in the dough. So mix the butter and sugar just enough until you get a smooth paste, but again, make sure it’s not too fluffy.
Third step, is adding the flour. I like to add AP flour and other flours together. If you’re using only AP flour, that’s OK too. Just make sure there are no lumps in the flour, and that you add them at the same time. You want to mix the flour into the dough with minimal effort, in the minimum amount of time. The longer you work the dough with the flour, the more gluten you develop, causing the cookies to be chewy and tough, instead of light and crumbly.
I only use the LOWEST speed on my mixer (stand mixer or hand mixer) to incorporate flour into the butter-sugar mix. Mix it just enough to create clumps of flour, with no dry spots, and then stop mixing immediately.
Fourth step, is to bring the clumps of flour together to make a cohesive ball of dough. Fold and knead the dough two or three times (very gently), to bring the dough together if needed. Now, the dough is ready to be rolled out and cut out for classic shortbread cookies!
Is there an easy way to roll and cut shortbread cookies?
YES! This brings me to my secret weapon – my favorite trick for making shortbread cookies! 🙂
Put the dough in a gallon size ziploc bag. Trust me, this is a game-changer if you want to make individual shortbread cookies (cut out shortbread cookies, instead of Scottish shortbread cookies).
I learned this trick ages ago, when I was first struggling to roll out the shortbread cookie dough to an even thickness, with minimal dough scraps. I’d roll out the cookie dough with wax paper or parchment paper to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface, but I always ended up with dough scraps when I cut out the cookies, because it was too hard to roll it out to a proper square or rectangle AND an even thickness. Plus I end up over-handling the dough, which is never a good thing.
The gallon ziploc bag fixes this issue! No more sticky dough. Instead, perfect smooth surfaces, and minimal dough scraps. PLUS, you will have rolled out your shortbread cookie dough to the size you want in a matter of minutes.
Put the dough inside the gallon ziploc bag, and press the dough into the corners of the bag, and then evenly press it to make an evenly thick slab of dough inside the bag. Keep the bag open to allow excess air to escape.
Roll out the dough, while it’s inside the bag, until it’s about 1/2 inch thick, evenly, and rectangular in shape (it won’t fill the whole gallon bag). This way you end up with a perfectly rolled shortbread dough, with minimal fuss.
Then chill the dough, so it’s easier to cut into fingers (or any other shape you like), pierce the cookies with a fork (to minimize spreading), and chill the cut cookie dough a little more before baking.
How to minimize cookie spreading
- Make sure to chill the dough before baking – You’ve already made sure that you didn’t incorporate too much air into the dough, but now you have to make sure the butter in the cookies is also properly chilled before baking. This will prevent the butter from melting too fast and spreading while the cookies are baking.
- Never place the cookies on a warm tray – ALWAYS use a baking tray that is at room temperature, or chilled. Again, this is to prevent the butter from softening, so that it won’t melt too fast and cause the cookies to spread while baking.
- Don’t bake the cookies at a low temperature – While classic Scottish shortbread cookies are baked at a low temperature, cut cookies should be baked at a slightly higher temperature. This way the cookies set fast, preventing too much spreading.
These cookies are baked until they’re BARELY colored, and are crisp, crumbly, buttery and addictively delicious! If you prefer softer shortbread cookies, you can make Scottish Shortbread Cookies instead! 🙂
How to make Scottish Shortbread Cookies (crumbly, thicker and softer shortbread cookies)
Once you’ve made the shortbread dough, transfer it into a ziploc bag, or place it between two parchment paper sheets. At this point, you need to decide whether you want to make Scottish shortbread cookies as a wedge (classic shape), or rectangles, so that you know which pan to use for baking.
For wedges – Springform circle pan (8 or 9 inch)
For rectangles – Square pan (8 inch)
Gently press the dough and shape it a little smaller than the size of the pan you’re going to use (square or circle). Then transfer the dough into the lined pan, and press it towards the edges of the pan, while making sure the dough has an even thickness everywhere. I use a toothpick to make sure that it’s even along the edges of the pan.
An 8 inch round pan will create shortbread cookies that are about 1 inch thick, and a 9 inch round pan or 8 inch square pan will create shortbread cookies that are about 1/2 – 3/4 inch thick.
Cut the dough into wedges while in the pan. Bake the cookie dough at a lower temperature, until the dough is mostly cooked through. Then cut the cookies along the same cuts you made earlier, and bake the individual cookies in the oven for just a few more minutes, until you get delightfully buttery, thick Scottish shortbread cookies!
So there you go! 🙂 You can make homemade buttery shortbread cookies in two different ways – cut out shortbread cookies or Scottish shortbread cookies. Either way, they are just the most buttery, crumbly, and also super versatile cookies. You can even make shortbread cookie balls and fill them with jam for a different version of thumbprint cookies.
Classic Thumbprint Cookies
These are so easy, I make them all the time! I make classic shortbread cookies or flavored shortbread cookies at least once a month. They are perfect for the holidays, or to just enjoy with your tea or coffee. You could also dip some of the cookies in chocolate for a chocolate-dipped version, but honestly, you just can’t beat the classic version!
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Easy Shortbread cookies
- 8 oz unsalted butter (1 cup) softened
- Generous pinch of sea salt
- 4 oz caster sugar (½ cup + 1 tbsp) see recipe notes
- 10 oz AP flour (2 1/3 cup)
- 2 oz rice flour (5 ½ tbsp) optional, but recommended - see recipe notes for substitutes
Flavoring (optional - see recipe notes)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract OR
- 1 ½ tsp almond extract
- 2 tsp orange extract OR
- Zest of half an orange
Classic Shortbread Cookies
- Place the butter and salt in the mixer bowl, and mix on medium speed until creamy (using a paddle beater) - about 2 to 4 minutes. You an use a stand mixer or a hand-held mixer.
- Add the sugar and mix until the sugar and butter are well mixed, and the mix is nice and creamy - about 1 to 2 minutes. If you're using any flavoring, add it to the mixture along with the sugar.
- Add the AP flour and rice flour (if using) and MIX ON LOW (or the stir setting), until the flour is mixed in with the butter-sugar mix, and the dough forms clumps. DO NOT over-mix, as this can make the cookies tough and chewy.
- Using floured hands OR a spatula - bring the dough together to form a cohesive dough (fold the dough over 2 - 3 times to help bring it together). Then flatten the dough into a disc shape.
- Place the dough disc in a gallon-size ziploc bag, on a flat smooth surface. Without closing the bag, gently roll the dough using a rolling pin, maintaining an even thickness throughout the dough. Press/roll the dough into the bottom edge of the ziploc bag, and form a roughly 10. 5 x 9 inch rectangle, that's about ½ inch thick. Keep the bag open while you do this to allow excess air to escape, so you can easily roll out the dough to an even thickness.
- Once the dough has been rolled out, close the bag, and carefully place it on a sheet pan. Then transfer this to the fridge to chill for about 30 - 60 minutes, or until the dough is firm enough to cut through.
- Next, carefully remove the dough disc from the ziploc bag. Place the dough on a parchment paper on a smooth surface, and using a sharp knife - trim the edges to get a rectangle (about 10 x 8 ¾ inches).
- Cut the dough lengthwise, along the middle, to get two slabs of dough, each approximately 10 x 4 inches.
- Using a sharp knife OR a crinkle cutter - cut shortbread fingers that are about 1 inch in width. With a straight knife, you should get about 20 cookies, and with a crinkle cutter you may get about 18 - 20 cookies depending on how you cut them.
- Using a fork or toothpick - pierce each cookie in a pattern on top (see pictures in the post). Transfer the parchment paper with the cookies onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for about another 30 - 60 minutes, until the cookies are chilled. Sometimes I cover the pan and keep it in the fridge overnight as well at this point.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. When the cookies are ready to be baked, place the cookies on a parchment paper-lined baking tray, about 1 inch apart (you may need to use 2 half sheet pans for all the cookies).
- Bake the cookies in the center of the oven, for about 15 - 20 minutes, or just until the bottom edges of the cookies are starting to color. Make sure to check on the cookies every few minutes.
- Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool.
- Repeat with the second sheet pan of shortbread cookies. Store the cooled cookies in an airtight container.
Scottish Shortbread Cookies
- Once the dough has been shaped into a disc, and placed inside a gallon-size ziploc bag, gently press the dough to form a circle that's roughly about 7 inches in diameter, and evenly thick.
- Butter an 8 or 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- Place the dough in the prepared springform pan. Press the dough to fill the cake pan, while making sure the thickness is even throughout.
- Optional - you can make the edge of the dough a little thicker than the rest, and pinch it to make a fluted edge. This is just an optional decorating idea for your Scottish shortbread cookies.
- Using a sharp knife - cut the dough into 8 wedges while still in the pan, and pierce the dough using a fork or a toothpick in a pattern (see pictures in post).
- Place the dough in the fridge to chill for about 1 hour, or longer.
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Place the pan in the center of the oven, and bake the cookies for about 45 - 60 minutes, until the edges are a golden brown. A 9 inch pan may only take 40 - 45 minutes, and an 8 inch pan may take up to 60 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven, and run a small flat knife along the edge of the pan, and carefully remove the springform pan collar from the base. Use a sharp or a serrated knife to cut the shortbread cookies into wedges (along the cuts you made before). Use a spatula to carefully lift the cookies and place them on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and return the cookies to the oven for a further 10 - 15 minutes until the edges are set. You don’t want the cut edges to color, so keep an eye on them.
- Remove from the oven, and allow them to cool. Serve at room temperature.
Tips & Tricks
- An equal amount (by weight) of regular granulated sugar, but process the sugar in a food processor or blender to make it finer.
- Or about 4.5 oz of confectioner's sugar.
- An equal amount of cornstarch (by weight) OR
- Simply replace it with extra AP flour - so 12 oz (2 ¾ cup) instead of 10 oz.