These Classic Shortbread Cookies are buttery and delicious as they are, but add a sparkling sugar coating or cover in melted chocolate and festive sprinkles and they’re guaranteed to be a crowd favorite, because classic never goes out of style.
Butter shortbread cookies are one of my go to holiday cookie recipes every year. But you can make a large batch and freeze the cookie dough so you can enjoy them even beyond the holidays.
The recipe is simple, the ingredient list is short, and you can easily customize the cookies with melted chocolate, sprinkles, icing, frosting, even different flavors if you want. They can morph and fit into any holiday throughout the year.
What are shortbread cookies?
In the past, shortbread cookies were considered a festive food, and were also expensive, so they were consumed only during special occasions such as Christmas, Scottish New Year’s Eve (Hogmanay), and weddings. Nowadays, it has evolved into a year-round treat, lucky us! [Source: Saveur]
There are many variations of shortbread recipes, but these cookies are typically made with flour, sugar, and butter. The high butterfat content in shortbread yields a crumbly short texture which gives it the name “shortbread.”
Shortbread can be flavored with salt, spices and other flavors depending on the region it originates from. I like my plain classic shortbread with a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla.
Warm spices can be added like in these Spiced Shortbread Christmas Cookies. Use citrus peel for a refreshing taste like these Lemon Shortbread Cookies, or go tropical with these Coconut Shortbread Cookies.
Is there a difference between shortbread and Scottish shortbread?
Shortbread originated from Scotland, so the terms shortbread and Scottish shortbread are sometimes used interchangeably. But while a typical shortbread cookie recipe will contain flour, sugar and butter as the major ingredients, Scottish shortbread can also contain ground rice or cornflour.
Scottish cookies, however, are different than shortbread cookies as they will also contain leavening ingredients such as baking powder and baking soda. Due to the leavening, Scottish cookies are crunchy while shortbread cookies are more crumbly.
How to make shortbread cookies
Preparing the shortbread dough
These easy shortbread cookies are made with just 5 ingredients: flour, butter, sugar, vanilla extract and salt. And making the dough will take you just 5 minutes.
- Add softened butter, sugar, and vanilla extract to your stand mixer bowl.
- Beat with the paddle attachment until combined and fluffy.
- In another mixing bowl, whisk together flour, and salt. Add to butter mixture.
- Mix until the dough forms.
Shaping the cookie dough
The cookie dough needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 mins to an hour to allow the butter to solidify and the dough to fully hydrate. Scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl, and shape it into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
- When the dough is ready, take it out of the fridge, and roll out to ¼” – ½” thick and cut it with desired shaped cookie cutter.
If you don’t want to bother with a cookie cutter, you can roll the dough into a log and treat it like a refrigerated slice-and-bake cookie dough. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a log, at least 6” long, refrigerate at least 30 mins to an hour, then cut the dough with a sharp knife into ½” thick slices.
Should I refrigerate my shortbread dough?
Yes, you should refrigerate shortbread dough, not only to allow the butter to saturate the dry ingredients, which will make the cookies tastier, but firmer cookie dough will make it easier to roll out and cut.
Does shortbread spread when baking?
Yes, shortbread will spread during baking. The dough contains a lot of butter and butter will melt when the dough goes into a hot oven. Refrigerating or freezing the dough will curb the spreading, but will not prevent it entirely.
What is the texture of shortbread when baked, soft or hard?
When the cookies come out of the oven, they will be soft. Allow the cookies to finish baking from the residual heat for 5 – 10 minutes on the baking sheet before moving them to a wire rack to cool. The cookies will harden when they are cooled completely.
When you bite into a shortbread cookie, it should have a little crunch at the start and a melt-in-your-mouth effect. It should be a little crumbly, but the cookie shouldn’t crumble and fall apart.
Shortbread cookies are dry, they are not moist or chewy, but they should be very buttery and satisfying to bite into.
Storing and making ahead
How long do butter shortbread cookies last?
As with all homemade cookies, these shortbread cookies are best the day they are baked and will last up to a week. Beyond this, the cookies will start to go stale. Store them in an airtight container at room temperature.
This dough freezes well and is the perfect candidate for making ahead. Once you make the dough, decide whether you want to and roll it into logs, or discs. You can freeze the logs right away, but with the discs, I suggest cutting them into cookies before freezing.
Either way, my favorite making ahead method is to take this recipe all the way to cutting the dough into cookies. Then layer the cookies in an airtight container with parchment paper in between so they don’t stick together and freeze.
This way you don’t have to worry about thawing, cutting, shaping the cookies when you are ready to bake them. You can bake the cookies straight from frozen, you’ll need to increase baking time by about 2 mins.
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment, send me a photo, rate it and don’t forget to tag me @wildwildwhisk on Instagram. I’d love to see what’s cooking up in your kitchen. Cheers!
Classic Shortbread Cookies
- 8 ounce unsalted butter (room temperature, 226 g)
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar (130 g)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (293 g)
- 1/4 scant teaspoon kosher salt
- Extra sugar for sprinkling
- 3/4 cup dark chocolate melting wafers
- Add sugar, softened butter, and vanilla extract to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat using the paddle attachment until combined and fluffy.
- If your flour is not pre-sifted, sift it using a fine mesh sieve. Then whisk together flour, and salt in a mixing bowl and add to the beaten butter mixture. Mix until a dough forms.
- Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a disk or a rectangle. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- When the dough is ready, take it out of the refrigerator and roll dough to between 1/4” - ½” thick. Cut out cookies with a 2” round or fluted cookie cutter. Re-roll the scrap dough and cut out more cookies until finished. This will yield about 32 cookies. Place the cookies in a container in layers with parchment paper in between and freeze while the oven is preheating.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- When the oven is ready, place cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet 1 to 2 inches apart. Sprinkle granulated sugar over the top of cookies generously and bake for 11 - 15 minutes until the edges are starting to turn light brown.
- Remove from the oven, let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely
- To make the topping, melt chocolate in a heatproof glass bowl over a small pot of simmering water over medium low heat, double boiler style.
- Cover the cookies half way with melted chocolate by dipping them into the bowl or spooning the chocolate over the cookies. Let the excess chocolate run off back into the bowl and place the cookies back on the parchment lined baking sheet to harden.
- If using sprinkles, add them as soon as you place the cookies on the baking sheet before the chocolate hardens.
- An alternate way to prepare this shortbread dough is to divide the dough in half and shape each half into a log, at least 6” long, refrigerate as directed then cut the dough with a sharp knife into 1⁄2” thick slices.
- Adjust the baking time based on your preference, longer baking time will yield more golden brown edges and crispier cookies.
All the flavors of Shortbread Cookies this way!
Classic with a twist
- Caramelized Sugar Shortbread Cookies
- Narutomaki Emoji Shortbread Cookies
- Valentine’s Day Stained Glass Cookies
Flavors and Mix-ins
- Matcha Shortbread Cookies
- Strawberry Shortbread
- Lemon Shortbread Cookies
- Chocolate Espresso Shortbread Cookies
- Almond Shortbread Cookies
- Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies
- Coconut Shortbread Cookies
- Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies with Macadamia nut
- Chocolate Shortbread Cookies with Macadamia nut
- Lemon Bars with shortbread crust
- Pumpkin Pie Bars with shortbread crust
- Jello Cheesecake Bars with walnut shortbread crust
This post was originally published on 2/25/2018. The post has been updated and republished on 1/3/2020 with the latest improvements, extra tips, and process photos to help you in the kitchen.