Sharing with you my guide on How To Make Shortbread Cookies. A classic all-butter, tender cookie made with only 3 core ingredients. This timeless shortbread is quick to make, lasts a long time and is perfect for every occasion, cookie swaps, festive baking, picnics and everyday treat.
Basic shortbread cookies are the little black dress of the cookie world. Classic, dependable and can be dressed up or down in all manner of ways. They really are the best cookies to make and I adore making them. I have three other great shortbread recipes for you to try out, plus more in the pipeline this year. My Strawberry Shortbread Cookies are perfect all your round but super sweet for Valentine’s Day. Then my Pecan Shortbread dipped in Maple Glaze hits the spot in Autumn, followed by my Cranberry Orange Shortbread stars to enjoy during the festive season.
Let's backtrack briefly though .... What is Shortbread? It a style of biscuit (as called in the UK) or cookie (as called in the US) that originates from Scotland. Due to its high fat content, the formation of gluten is inhibited resulting in shortbread having an extremely 'short' tender texture.
The shortbread in my recipe uses the traditional ingredients of butter, sugar and flour giving you the most flakey, buttery, crumbly shortbread cookie that you can bite into. And it’s absolutely perfect! This is exactly what a great shortbread recipe should achieve!
Not only do I show you how to make this easy all-butter shortbread dough that comes together in minutes, but I also share an impressive list of mix-in ideas to jazz up your buttery Shortbread Cookies if you wish.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Simple is best. I love this adage, and it’s oh so true in this case. You can’t beat the familiarity of biting down onto a traditional shortbread cookie. It’s like a warm hug!
- Versatile. Shortbread is a fantastic base to use for all sorts of recipes. Along with cookie rounds, fingers, petticoat tails and slice n’ bake cookies, you can also make thumbprint cookies, stamped cookies and shortbread caramel bars.
- Build your own adventure. The options are endless as to what you can flavour the shortbread with but also what you can decorate them with. You just gotta have fun with it!
I've seen many variations of recipes around on the web using rice flour, cornflour, powdered icing sugar or egg in the dough. I’m not here to say that they are wrong. I just keep falling back to my favourite, easy shortbread cookie recipe that uses butter, sugar and flour at its core. The dough really does make the best shortbread cookies ever!
With so few ingredients my biggest tip when buying them is to go for the best quality that you can, especially when it comes down to the butter that you use. Use a good quality European Butter as they have a far superior taste but also lower water content which benefits the shortbread.
- Butter - I recommend unsalted butter so that you can control the level of salt within the recipe. As my method creams the butter and sugar together, ensure the butter is at room temperature for maximum cream-ability! But make sure it’s not too soft verging on the melted otherwise it won’t cream properly and you’ll be left with greasy, dense cookies. My first image in the Step-by Step-Instructions below shows you what the butter should be like.
- Sugar - Granulated or caster sugar is used. The recipe states granulated as it's more main stream, but either can be used. They are the same product, the difference being that the caster sugar granules are slightly finer allowing them to dissolve quicker into the butter. I personally go for caster sugar every time.
- Flour - Plain (all-purpose) flour creates the perfect structure for the cookies to maintain their shape. Don’t bake with self-raising flour for this recipe as we don’t need the added aeration that it provides.
- Vanilla Extract & Salt - Vanilla extract and salt are not part of the core ingredients needed to make shortbread. If you are a purist then by all means leave them out. But I love the additional flavour and balance these two ingredients bring to the shortbread. Vanilla bean paste or the scraped beans from ½ a vanilla bean is a good substitute for vanilla extract. And use fine salt rather than flaked salt for an even distribution of salt throughout the dough.
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions!*
I can’t wait for you to dive headlong into this section showing you how to make butter shortbread cookies. Here, you’ll find process images and stepped instructions to make classic shortbread so you know exactly what to expect. This really is the perfect recipe for beginner bakers. You'll see just how simple it is to make.
Make the all-butter shortbread cookie dough
Before we start, just note that I use a standmixer to mix my shortbread ingredients, as shown in the process shots throughout. I bake every day (almost any way!), and have it easily accessible. Having said that, before I owned my standmixer, I only ever used my electric hand-held mixer and the results were identical. So, please, use whichever machine you prefer.
1. Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract. The butter has to be at room temperature for it to be able to cream properly. If you look at Image 1, you’ll see that I can easily make an indent in the butter. This is perfect!
TIP: How to soften butter quickly
If you need to soften it quickly, place chopped or sliced butter around the outer edge of a dinner plate, microwave for 10 seconds and check. If the butter needs a little longer, continue in 5-second bursts. This is how I bring my butter up to room temperature as I forget to take it out of the fridge each and every time!!
Now beat in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment .... or use Electric Hand-Held Beaters, and cream the butter for 2 minutes. The butter basically needs to aerate but only just enough whilst dissolving the sugar crystals. You’ll know it's ready when the creamed mixture is lovely and pale. Beat in too much air and that air will cause the surface of the shortbread to puff up and bubble. (Image 2 & 3)
Add the vanilla extract in and give it a quick mix together. Make sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. (Image 4)
2. Add in flour and beat them together. Sift the flour into the creamed butter - no need to sift it into a separate bowl, just go right into the mixing bowl (Image 5). And on low speed mix the creamed butter until the dough comes together.
At the start of mixing, it can look like the dough is too dry and will never come together. Be patient and keep the mixer going on low. The flour basically has to start to become coated with the moisture of the creamed butter and sugar. It can take a minute for this to happen.
Roll out the dough and stamp
3. Roll out the shortbread dough. On a lightly floured surface roll out your dough with a lightly floured rolling pin. Note: I tend to only flour the surface and the rolling pin and not the top surface of the dough itself. This adds even more flour which can dry out the dough. (Image 10). You can also roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper too if you like.
TIP: Is my dough too soft and what do I do if it is?
It's important to note that if the dough is too soft then it will be impossible to cut out the cookies in the next stage. The air temperature, how soft the butter was to start off with, whether the exact amount of flour was measured all come into play with how soft the dough is at this point.
How will you know if it's too soft? You'll find it really tricky to roll out. It will stick to your rolling pin and to your work surface and not roll out evenly. When you try to stamp out the cookies it will stick to the stamps and lose shape when you try to transfer the cutouts to a baking tray.
What to do if the dough is too soft. If it's too soft to roll out then pop it in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to firm up a little (but not too much otherwise the dough will crack when you try to roll it out). Living in the UK, I find in the heat of summer I have to refrigerate the dough at this point, but in Autumn/Winter I can roll it straight out. If you live in a hot, humid climate then this tip is particularly important.
Prick shortbread. Once all the rounds are on the lined baking tray, then use the tines of a fork to press holes about halfway down into the dough (Image 15). This helps the dough from bubbling up whilst baking and allows the steam to release, plus it gives it quite a traditional, signature look!
Refrigerate. Now chill those cutout cookies on a baking sheet for 30 minutes minimum, or until the cutouts have hardened. By doing this, the butter won't melt out when it hits the hot oven and the cookies will retain their shape. The result will be perfectly shaped, buttery cookies. (Image 16 below)
Note: Make this ahead of time by covering the tray in plastic wrap and then refrigerating it overnight (or even a couple of days!). You can then pop them in the oven as and when you want.
Bake the shortbread cookies
Smooth out cookie tops if needed. If the shortbread has bubbled slightly on the surface, then as soon as you take the tray out of the oven, and I mean as soon as you do this, then very, very gently smooth the surface with the base of a flat glass or measuring cup (Image 18).
Sprinkle with sugar (optional). Then sprinkle with some granulated sugar over the top when still warm (Image 19). Leave the cookies to cool down on the baking tray. There is no need to transfer them to a wire rack.
How do you know if shortbread is baked properly?
It can be hard to know when shortbread is baked through. Not baked for long enough and it's wet and claggy, too long and it's dry and crisp.
Aside from the slightly golden edges, another way to tell if the shortbread is cooked through is to lift one up and look at the bottom. If the cookie still looks wet underneath then they are underdone. Pop them back in for another minute or two to bake right through.
Refer to my image below to get a visual idea as to when the shortbread is done. That being said, everyone has their own personal preference on how flakey or crispy shortbread should be. I prefer mine verging on only just baked for that full-on melt-in-the-mouth, tender texture.
There are quite a few different factors that will affect how long you bake your cookies and the outcome. Here are points to look out for:
Different oven temps: Your oven can run at a different temperature to mine and with such a short bake time overall, just a couple of degrees will change the length of bake time.
Measurements: Were the ingredients measured out properly. Too much flour will dry out the cookie dough and then bake time may need to be reduced.
The thickness of dough: The thinner you roll out the dough- the crispier they will be.
Bake time: Use the recommended time in the recipe but my biggest tip is to go by sight. Buttery and 'short', or crisp. I like my shortbread soft and buttery so bake them the minimum time stated. But if you'd prefer yours on the crisper side then leave them in the oven for a couple of minutes longer.
Your best bet is to use your eyes as a guide. (Refer to my image above for visual clues.)
Mix-ins to customise your traditional shortbread
Now that you have your shortbread dough nailed, you have the perfect base recipe to then be able to flavour to your shortbread. You can add as much or as little as your like! Here are just some ingredients that you can add. Even go for a combination of them, for example, chocolate chips and orange zest, earl grey with a lemon drizzle or chopped almonds and dried apricots.
- Nuts: Any type of chopped nuts can be added to your shortbread mix. Lightly toasted or raw nuts as per your preference, chop them up coarsely for even distribution throughout the dough. Examples you might like are walnuts, pecan, pistachio, almonds, hazelnuts and sesame seeds.
- Herbs: Mixing finely chopped herbs into the dough provides a subtely but herbaceous essence that is delightful. Herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender are my favourite.
- Spices: such as cardamom, cumin, pumpkin spice, cinnamon or fennel can add an interesting note.
- Teas: Earl grey tea has to be my favourite to add to the dough, but others might include English breakfast, mint tea or camomile. (Use crushed up tea leave rather than hot water and the leaves.)
- Citrus: Orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit are incredible flavours to add to your shortbread. Do this through the zest, and top tip - make sure to rub the zest into the sugar to release the oils in the zest. Then carry on and cream the sugar and butter as per the instructions. You get maximum flavour this way.
- Extracts: Add coffee, lemon, lavender, orange, peppermint, maple or rum extracts to intensify flavour. Be warned, a little goes a long way.
- Dried fruit: A fantastic addition to any shortbread biscuit is by adding dried fruit. They add amazing sweetness but also amazing little pockets of chewiness too. Make sure to chop the fruit up into small peices to make it easier to stamp or sut the dough. Examples of dried fruit mix-ins are dried cherries, rasions, apricots, cranberries and dates.
- Confectionary: Sweets! The kids (and adults!) are going to love you!. Have fun and think of all the fun sweets such as Jelly Beans, M&M's, Smarties, Marshmallows, Sprinkles, and chopped chocolate bars like Mars Bars, Twix and Snickers Bars. Just typing this list brings a smile to my face!
- Chocolate: Any and all chocolate works incredibly well with the buttery shortbread. Add in coarsley chopped chocolate bars, chocolate chipsor chocolate callets into the dough for little pockets of melted heaven throughout! Or the cookies can be dipped or drizzled with chocolate or a combination of various types. Don't just stop at dark, milk or white chocolate, think about ruby or blonde chocolate and mint or orange chocolate. It's a great chance to have fun and put your own spin on your cookies
- Re-roll the dough. Once you've cut out the first round of cookies, make sure to bring the dough back together again with your hand, re-shape it then re-roll and cut out more cookies. I do this twice to get the maximum number of cookies from the dough.
- Flour your cookie cutters. When making the Shortbread Cookie Rounds, this stops the dough from sticking to them and avoids you having to peel the dough from the cutter, ruining the cookie shape.
- Refrigerate the cookie dough. Unless you what a tray of odd-shaped cookies that have spread all over the place, the dough needs to be chilled where stated in the recipe.
- Keep an eye on the bake time. Everyone's oven runs at a slightly different temperature. With such a short bake time, a minute or two either way will make a difference.
Frequently asked questions
Scottish shortbread traditionally uses shortening as the fat or a combination of both butter and shortening. This results in a slightly different flavour, but also texture which is a little firmer and crisper than regular shortbread.
True, they do look the same! The main difference is in the ingredients list. Sugar cookies have baking powder in them acting as a leavener making them lighter in texture. Shortbread doesn't have this making them more crumbly and denser.
This is to resolidify the butter. The butter is at room temperature when making the dough resulting in a soft dough. If baked straight away, the butter would melt away immediately when hitting the hot oven and the shortbread would spread. By chilling the dough, the butter takes a lot longer to melt in the heat, and this allows the outside of the dough to set in place before the butter fully melts inside, leaving you with perfect cut out shortbread cookies.
It's all in the quality of the ingredients. With such a short ingredients list, the quality makes a big difference. The perfect shortbread cookie should be crumbly, but not dry, buttery but not greasy and sweet but not sickly.
How to store and freeze
To store: The shortbread cookie dough itself can be made well in advance. Wrap very well with plastic wrap and store the dough for up to a week in the fridge. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container on the countertop for up to 5 days and in the fridge for up to one week.
To freeze: Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and place in a freezer-safe airtight container. Freeze the dough for up to 3 months and thaw overnight in the refrigerator. To freeze baked shortbread cookies, store in an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Allow cookies to come to room temperature before serving.
Equipment you’ll need
- Stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachement: The quickest and easiest way to make the dough. Electric hand-held beaters will work perfectly well also.
- Rolling Pin: To roll the dough and be able to create those cookie shapes.
- Baking sheet: Depending on how large the cookies are, you may need one or two sheets.
More How To Guides you might enjoy
- How To Make Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
- How To Make Enriched Brioche Dough
- How To Make Italian Biscotti
- How To make Traditional English Scones
If you tried this Shortbread Cut Out Cookies Recipe or any other recipe on my website, please let me know how you go in the comments below. I love hearing from you. Also, please leave a star rating whilst you're there!
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The Best All Butter Shortbread Cookies Recipe
- 130 g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 60 g granulated sugar, caster sugar is preferred if you have access to it.
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 180 g plain flour (all-purpose)
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract. Line one or two baking trays with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar and cream for about 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed until pale and light. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl halfway through. Add in the vanilla extract and mix again.
- Add in flour beat them together. Sift in the flour and add the salt then mix at low speed until they are combined and the dough starts to come together. The dough will look quite raggedy but you’ll know it's ready when it starts to clean the sides of the bowl and clumps in the middle.With your hands, squeeze the shortbread dough together into a mass. Shape it into a rough disc.
- Roll out the shortbread dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a ½ cm (¼ inch) thick. Note: if the dough is too soft at this point then wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes or longer until it firms up slightly and makes it easier to roll out. Keep an eye on it as if the dough is too hard, it will crack when you try to roll it out.
- Cut out cookie shapes and chill. Once the dough is rolled out, use a cookie cutter (I used a round one) to stamp out the cookies. Lay the cutouts onto the prepared baking tray. Bring together any scraps, re-roll and stamp out more cookies. And then, do it again if needs be. Just be aware that every time you re-form the dough, it will pull in the flour from the benchtop and hence may dry out the dough. Add a couple of drops of water to the dough if this happens. Try not to overwork the dough by kneading it. Just press it gently together each time.Once all the rounds are on the baking tray, use the tines of a fork to pierce holes into the top. This stops it bubbling up as much. You can make any pattern!
- Now refrigerate the stamped cookies for 30 minutes minimum or until the cutouts have hardened. This means the butter has resolidified and will give you the best possible chance of the cookies retaining their shape in the oven.
- Bake. Preheat the oven to 170°C (335°F) whilst the cutouts are chilling. Remove the cookies from the fridge, then bake for 10-12 mins or until just golden around the edges. Cool on the tray for ten minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.Option: Sprinkle the shortbread cookies with sugar as soon as you remove them from the oven when they are still hot.
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.