Shortbread cookies are a rather dignified affair, often paired with tea and leaning towards savory with their light sweetness and flavors like lemon and rosemary. These cookies are quite humble, however, in both their ingredient list and their preparation. This rich cookie — which sometimes takes on the crispy, snappy quality of a cracker — doesn't require a stand mixer, rolling pin, or cookie cutter, and can be stashed in the freezer for an impromptu holiday cookie plate or an equally important tea party with your favorite toddler.
Mixing Up Shortbread Cookies for the Best Texture
Here's how you know you're eating a good shortbread cookie: it's not too sweet, it's not too soft, and it has a sandy, snappy texture almost more like a cracker than a cookie. And then there's the butter — the primary flavor in this straightforward-yet-elegant treat.
Shortbread cookies offer up a different method for making a cookie — especially when you compare it to most butter-based recipes. Normally you have to use soft butter to mix cookies, but then you have chill the dough to harden the butter again before baking. For some cookies, these steps cannot be avoided, but for shortbread cookies, mixing cold butter into the dry ingredients using a food processor instead of a stand mixer makes for a more tender cookie and a shorter wait time from craving to cookie. In fact, the process is similar to pie crust — the cold butter mixed in with the sharp blade gives these cookies the sandy texture we adore.
Mistakes to Avoid When Making Shortbread
This simple cookie seems to challenge even the best home bakers, as the cookies often spread too much or bake up too brown. Here are few steps to avoid that.
- Start with cold butter.
- Chill the dough again before baking.
- Cool the baking sheets between batches.
On using parchment paper: Use unlined, not nonstick, baking sheets is preferred for baking shortbread cookies as it helps them maintain their shape while baking. However if you're baking a ton of cookies and need to keep your baking sheets clean between batches, please note that lining your baking sheets won't ruin the cookies.
How to Upgrade Basic Shortbread Cookies
The beauty of shortbread cookie dough is that you can add almost anything to it for flavoring or upgrading. Fresh citrus zest and herbs are nice, as are nuts, cocoa nibs, toffee bits, and extracts. When I'm feeling very festive, adding vanilla bean seeds to the dough makes these cookies feel even more elegant.
Try our herby version: Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
How to Freeze Shortbread Cookies
The easiest way to preserve shortbread cookies is to freeze the dough logs before baking. Tightly wrapped, they will keep in the freezer for up to a month. Thaw for about an hour before slicing and baking. Frozen cookie dough, with directions attached, is also a lovely hostess gift to give for the holidays.
How To Make Shortbread Cookies
Makes 30 cookies
What You Need
(8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 32 pieces
vanilla extract (optional)
Measuring cups and spoons
Parchment paper or plastic wrap
Baking sheets, preferably aluminum (not nonstick)
Pulse the dry ingredients: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse to combine, 2 to 3 quick pulses.
Add the butter and vanilla: Add the butter and vanilla if using and pulse to combine.
Pulse to form a dough: Continue pulsing until the mixture sticks together when pressed with 2 fingers, about 1 minute. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure the dough is evenly mixed.
For round, square, or triangle cookies: Roll the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper until 1/4-inch thick. Place the dough still in the parchment on a baking sheet.
Chill the dough: Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.
Cut the cookies: Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F. Remove the dough from the freezer. Remove the top sheet of parchment and cut the cookies into circles, squares, or triangles. Arrange the cut cookies 1 inch apart on 2 ungreased, unlined aluminum baking sheets (not nonstick), about 15 cookies per sheet.
Bake the cookies: Bake the cookies until just golden, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets between racks and from front to back halfway through. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Make ahead: The cookie logs can be frozen for up to 1 month. The baked cookies can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Storage: The baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Log method for round cookies: Place 2 sheets of plastic wrap about 15 inches long on a work surface. Divide the dough into 2 even portions (about 10 ounces each) and shape each portion into a 6 1/2-inch-long log that is about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place each log on a sheet of plastic wrap at a long end, then roll up to completely wrap in plastic. Twist and tie the ends together. Wrap the dough logs in the parchment paper and freeze for 1 hour or until firm. The dough can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 month. Remove the dough logs from the freezer, unwrap, and slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Bake as directed above.