January 30, 2023

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Classic Shortbread Cookie Recipe | A Mind “Full” Mom

Shortbread Cookies are made with only 5 simple ingredients to create a tender, flaky, buttery cookie that is melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Baked shortbread cookies on cutting board.

When you are craving a cookie that is buttery and not overly sweet, shortbread cookies are the perfect solution to satisfy that craving.

This classic Scottish recipe is known for being a flaky, buttery cookie that is not overly sweet. They are made with only a handful of simple ingredients to create a cookie with a crisp, yet delicate texture that will melt in your mouth, much like my recipe for Snowball Cookies.

In my book, shortbread cookies are the perfect treat, especially when dipped into a hot beverage like a homemade latte or a mug of Christmas Tea or hot chocolate. They are a little bit salty, a little bit sweet, and oh, so buttery. Just delicious.

Key Ingredients

Ingredients for shortbread cookies labeled on white counter.
  • Butter: Unsalted butter is best for baking, and this is true for shortbread as well. If you only happen to have salted butter on hand, feel free to use it, just omit the added salt from the recipe. I would not substitute vegan butter in this Shortbread Cookie recipe, as the fat content is not the same and the cookies will not hold their shape or texture well.
  • Flour: All-purpose flour is best for this recipe. I have not had success using whole wheat pastry flour or gluten-free flour when making shortbread cookies.
  • Powdered Sugar: I recommend using powdered sugar in place of granulated sugar in the dough, as it is less dense than granulated sugar and produces a lighter cookie.
  • Granulated Sugar: I use granulated sugar on top of the cookie for texture and a bit of additional sweetness, but it is not necessary.
  • Vanilla Extract: Vanilla extract is optional, and not always added to traditional shortbread recipes. However, I love the hint of vanilla that it lends to the cookie.

How to Make Scottish Shortbread Cookies

Before you begin making these shortbread cookies, it is important to note that it is CRUCIAL for you to measure the ingredients correctly. The powdered sugar and flour should be fluffed and spooned into the measuring cup, then leveled off. If the dry ingredients are packed down when you measure them, or if your measuring cup is overflowing, the shortbread dough will turn out crumbly.

  • In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.
  • Add the flour and salt to the butter mixture and mix until combined. If the dough is still crumbly, press together with your hands into a cohesive dough.
2 photos showing steps creaming butter and mixing the flour into the cookie dough.
  • On a lightly floured surface, pat or roll the dough into an 8×8 square that is about ½ inch thick. I have found for many people, it works better to shape your dough BEFORE you chill it, making it super easy to slice and bake after chilling.
  • Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. This will allow the butter to get cold and form air pockets in the cookie as it melts, keeping it light and tender–much like biscuits.
  • When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven.
  • Once the oven is fully preheated, remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut the dough into 2-inch squares, for a total of 16 cookies.
Side by side pictures of shortbread rolled out and shortbread dough cut into 2 inch squares.
  • Piece cookies with a fork, toothpick, or skewer, several times. This will allow steam to escape and the shortbread to not puff up too much as it bakes.
Using a fork to put pricks into shortbread cookie dough.
  • Place the shortbread cookies onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper about 1 inch apart from each other.
  • Sprinkle lightly with the granulated sugar. This will give the shortbread a nice crunch and sweet finish.
Shortbread cookies spaced out baking sheet.
  • Bake the shortbread cookies until lightly golden and set for about 18 to 20 minutes. Be careful to not let cookies brown, they should be fairly pale in color. 
  • Let the shortbread cool to room temperature on the baking sheet and then remove the cookies to a cooling rack or platter for serving.
Baked Shortbread Cookies on baking sheet.

How to Store Shortbread

Once the shortbread cookies have fully cooled, transfer them to an airtight container and store them for up to 7 days at room temperature. Alternatively, you can freeze shortbread in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. I do prefer placing shortbread in a container versus a freezer bag to keep them from being damaged as things are tossed about in the freezer. Defrost at room temperature and enjoy.

Make-Ahead Instructions

Shortbread Cookie Dough can be made up to 5 days in advance. Prepare the dough as directed and store the dough, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer in a freezer-safe storage container for up to one month. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight if needed, and then roll, cut, and bake the cookies as directed.

Recipe Modifications

  • Make it Festive: Instead of topping your shortbread with granulated sugar, use colored sparkling sugar to the cookies before baking.
  • Add Sprinkles: Quickly mix ½ cup of sprinkles into your cookie dough after mixing in the flour. Shape, chill, slice, and bake as directed.
    Chocolate Dipped Shortbread: Once your cookies have been baked and cooled, melt 1 cup of dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips into a heat-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals until melted. Dip half the cookie into the melted chocolate and then place it on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Allow the chocolate to harden and then serve or store as directed.
  • Add Almond Extract: To enhance the nutty flavor of the butter, add ¼ teaspoon of almond extract to the shortbread cookies along with the vanilla extract.

I hope you love these shortbread cookies as much as I do! If you give them a try, I would love for you to leave a comment and rating below. 

Baked Shortbread Cookies on wooden Cutting board.

Shortbread Cookies

An easy 5-ingredient recipe for classic Scottish Shortbread Cookies that are buttery, tender, and melt-in-your-mouth.