These Simple Shortbread Cookies can be made two ways, both are a delicious easy to make Shortbread Cookie Recipe, a melt in your mouth cookie that you will make year after year. Choose the traditional Shortbread or Brown Sugar version.
Probably the most awaited Christmas Cookies! But to tell the truth I like to make these not just at Christmas Time! They are so good how can you not?
- Butter – softened
- Sugar – powdered sugar or brown sugar (depending on the recipe)
- Flour – all purpose flour
Brown Sugar Shortbread Ingredients
- Brown sugar
How is shortbread different from cookies?
Most cookies have baking powder, baking soda and eggs in the recipe, they are usually lighter and sometimes chewy, whereas shortbread do not have baking powder or soda and contain few ingredients and they tend to be a tender, crumbly and melt in your mouth type of cookie.
How to Make them – Classic Shortbread
Beat butter until creamy. Then add a little at a time the sifted icing sugar, corn starch, salt and flour.
Move to a lightly floured flat surface and knead until mixture cracks slightly. Pat or roll gently to 1/3″ thickness. Cut out cookies with your favourite cookie cutters.
Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheets or an un greased non stick cookie sheet and bake.
Be sure you don’t let them brown they should be a very light golden colour when done. Let cool on cookie sheets, then move to a wire rack.
This dough is so easy to work with you don’t even have to roll it out, but you can if you want, just pat to your desired thickness, (I tend to like them thicker, more cookie for the bite you could say).
I love Simple Shortbread Cookies, they practically melt in your mouth. I always had a friend who said that her Brown Sugar Shortbread was the best and made exactly how it should be made with only 3 ingredients, butter, sugar and flour.
But to make her happy I would make her Brown Sugar Shortbread cookies, and I have to admit she did have a good argument, they are pretty yummy. I love the flavor the brown sugar gives the cookies. Although I would argue that my Mom made the best cookies and hers had five ingredients. And yes I still stand by my Mom’s.
How to make Brown Sugar Shortbread
Cream butter until fluffy, add sugar and cream together, then add the flour gradually and mix until almost combined.
Move the mixture to a lightly floured flat surface and with your hands work the dough until it comes together and forms a ball. If it is too sticky, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface roll to 1/3 inch (1 cm) thickness. Cut out with desired shapes, place on prepared cookie sheets and bake for approximately 10-12 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheets and then move to a wire rack.
How to make Shortbread Cookies without a cookie cutter:
With this Shortbread dough you can actually just roll the dough into a log shape, then slice it and bake on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. I would probably refrigerate the log (before cutting) for about 30 minutes.
Can this Shortbread Recipe be made with a stand mixer?
If you can’t or don’t want to knead the dough by hand, then yes a stand up mixer using the paddle attachment will work just fine.
I would only knead up to a point, when the dough just starts to come together (or even better, very coarse crumb mixture) and then knead the dough by hand. Completely kneading by machine can make the dough tough and dry.
As a reader Trina, stated “The dough does come together with elbow grease. I wouldn’t add more butter, it just takes kneading and I found that the mixer does not bring it together, you need to get in there with your hands”.
Why use powdered/icing sugar?
Powdered sugar will help keep the cookies soft for longer and it helps to keep the cookies from spreading while baking.
What does brown sugar do in shortbread?
Brown sugar will make a softer cookie and a subtle caramel flavor. Because brown sugar can increase spreading in cookies it is a good idea to chill the dough and the cookies before baking.
What is the best flour for cut out Cookies?
Be sure to use a high protein, at least 11.5 – 12%, my flour is about 13%, a low protein flour will cause the cookies to spread, and believe me refrigerating the dough will not help.
Why do you add Cornstarch to Shortbread Cookies?
I have recently discovered that a lot of people add corn starch (my Mom’s fourth ingredient) to cookie and cake recipes, the reason is because it adds softness to the finished cookie or cake. It also helps keep the dough from spreading.
To add a twist I even topped a couple of big stars with some Nutella and one with jam, then put some crumbled up dough on top and then baked them.
How to keep cookies from spreading
To keep the cookies from spreading it is best to beat the butter and sugar just until combined and not creamed (of course this also depends on the type of cookie), for some cookies including some icing sugar in the mixture also keeps the cookies from spreading.
And probably most important of all, is to use a higher protein flour with at least 11.5- 12% protein count.
And don’t forget to chill the dough for at least 1 hour and again the cut out cookies before baking while the oven is pre-heating. Using most of these will help produce the perfect Christmas Cookies.
And why is it called Shortbread
According to British Food History – Dating back to the 12th century , shortbread was originally called biscuit bread.
These biscuits were made from left-over bread dough that was sometimes sweetened and dried out in the oven to form a hard, dry rusk. This practise took place over the whole of the British Isles, not just Scotland.
How to Store Shortbread Cookies
The baked cookies should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. I sometimes store mine in the fridge because I like cold cookies. They will last up to 10 days by storing them in the fridge.
How to Freeze Shortbread Cookies
To freeze the shortbread cookies, place parchment paper in between the layers of the completely cooled cookies this prevents them from sticking together when they are in the containers for freezing, or you can also place the baked cooled cookies on a cookie sheet and freeze them, then move the frozen cookies to either airtight bags or containers. Baked Shortbread Cookies will last up to 6 months in the freezer.
To thaw the cookies be sure to remove the frozen cookies from the bags or containers (this way no condensation will form) and let them thaw at room temperature. In our house no one waits for them to thaw!
Yes you can make the dough in advance, wrap well and place in an airtight bag, it can be refrigerated for up to 2-4 days or frozen for up to a month in the freezer.
I like to bake my shortbread to a very light color, whereas my daughter prefers them a darker golden brown. It’s up to you.
In my opinion no, unsalted butter is not available in my area in Italy so I have never used it and I have never noticed a difference. Just be sure to adjust the salt accordingly.
Shortbread has a buttery melt in your mouth crumbly texture. For some people it can even have a dry sandy texture.
I would advise refrigerating the dough for at least an hour and then refrigerating the cookies for about 15-20 before baking. This can be done while the oven is pre-heating.
Yes you could add for example a teaspoon of vanilla, almond or orange flavoring. Or you could incorporate some chopped chocolate, coconut or even some finely chopped nuts.
I hope you try these Simple Shortbread Cookies, either my Mom’s or the Brown Sugar Shortbread or why not both, and be sure to let me know, which Shortbread Cookie you prefer. Enjoy!
More Shortbread Cookies You May Enjoy!
- Easy Chocolate Chip Whipped Shortbread
- Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread Cookies
- Lemon Cheesecake Squares
- Almond Crescent Cookies
- Coconut Jam Squares
- Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
Simple Shortbread Cookies – Two Ways
MY MOM'S SHORTBREAD (Classic shortbread)
- 1 cup butter softened (salted)*
- ½ cup icing / powdered sugar
- ½ cup corn starch
- 1 pinch salt*
- 2 cups all purpose flour
If you use unsalted butter then add ¼ teaspoon of salt. Be sure to use a good quality butter, apparently this year 2022, store brand butter quality is not what it used to be. Less fat could mean a dry not so tasty cookie.
MY FRIEND'S SHORTBREAD (Brown sugar shortbread)
- 1 cup butter softened (salted)
- ½ cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 1 pinch salt
- Pre-heat oven to 325° (160 celsius).
My Mom's Shortbread. Line 2 cookies sheets with parchment paper.
- Beat butter until creamy about 3 minutes. Sift icing sugar, corn starch, salt and flour 4 times (I know, but it is worth it). Add the dry sifted ingredients to the creamed butter a little at a time and work in with a wooden spoon as long as possible*, then move to a lightly floured flat surface and knead until the dough cracks slightly.
- Roll gently with a lightly floured rolling pin to 1/3" (1 cm) thickness or pat to desired thickness with the palm of your hand. Cut out with Christmas cutters and place on the prepared cookie sheets, bake for approximately 10-12 minutes, don't let them brown. Let cool on cookie sheets, then move to a wire rack.
My friend's Shortbread
- Cream butter until fluffy, add sugar and cream together, then gradually add the flour and salt, mix with a wooden spoon* as much as you can. Move the mixture to a lightly floured flat surface and with your hands work the dough until it comes together and forms a ball.
- Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for approximately 60 minutes. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to 1/3 inch (1 cm) thickness. Cut out into desired shapes, place on the prepared cookie sheets. Refrigerate the cookies while the oven is pre-heating. Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheets and then move to a wire rack.
*or use the paddle attachment on the mixer until almost combined, then move to a lightly floured flat surface and continue with the recipe.
Updated from November 30, 2014
Hi Rosemary, these look so simple and delicious! Do you think they’d freeze well cut, but unbaked? Want to make ahead so I just have to pop them in the oven and can then try decorating some with my two year old next week!
Hi Mel, I would say yes, but I would freeze them until firm about an hour or two on a cookie sheet then move to a freezer safe container. You can bake them from frozen, although it will probably take a few minutes extra. But watch them. Have fun!
Exactly what I’m doing with my three year old today!
Your Mother’s recipe is amazing. The best tip is to believe in the dough as it is written. It seems like it will never come together, but I promise it WILL! I put the dough in a large freezer bag and kneaded it for about 15 minutes total. It was so soft and lovely. I didn’t use a roller, I found it stuck to the roller a little too much and I didn’t want to add any more flour to the dough at all. I used my palm to roll out enough dough for 3 cookies at a time. Gorgeous cookies!
Hi Shauna, thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed them. And yes they may take a bit but I agree they are so worth it. Merry Christmas!
Your moms recipe is perfect!!! The cookies are so tasty. Light and melt in your mouth!
Love them! Thank you for sharing!
Hi Nicky, thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed them. Happy Holidays!
Debbie Cumbow says
I’m looking for some new Christmas cookie recipes. I’ve made the same ones for over 25 years! Though certain ones will remain standard to our collection, I’m anxious to try these delicious newbies!
Hi Debbie, thanks let me know how it goes. Have a great week.
Best shortbread cookie ever! Very light and melt in your mouth. My Mom’s shortbread recipe came from a Scottish friend but even though it tasted good, it was nothing like this! I live at 5300 ft and didn’t have any trouble with the dough. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer and did not sift the ingredients (didn’t have time). Did not knead the dough either but just used my mixer with the beater attachment on the lowest setting just until the dough came together. It held together perfectly with no cracks. Your Mom’s shortbread recipe–Fabulous! Next time I’m thinking of adding vanilla bean paste, craisins, and white chocolate chunks.
Hi Laura, thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed it. Those additions sound delicious. Happy Holidays.
Nicole J Bugeaud says
Just like my Maman’s! Indeed the dough is crumbly and needs to be kneaded to the right consistency but so worth it! They are light and melt in your mouth, just like a shortbread should.
Hi Nicole, thanks so much, and yes best when kneaded. Have a great week.
For those having trouble getting the dough to come together: our family tradition is to put the dough in a sealed bag and pass it from person to person to knead it. We’d watch a Christmas movie while we did. The longer you knead this dough, the better the cookies. It’s a great way to get the job done without your hands getting too tired!
Hi Shfu, I love that idea, thank you! Have a wonderful Christmas.
I made this recipe tonight and the dough came out extremely wet. It was impossible to knead, so I added more flour. They came out awfully floury (as you’d expect). Do you have any advice for me?
Hi Sydnee, I have no idea why they would be too wet, I think you probably added too much butter. Let me know.
The BEST shortbread cookie yet! They rolled out beautifully and we’re a hit where I made several dozen for a wedding. The trick? Use very high quality butter like Kerry Gold. The higher fat content makes all the difference.
Thanks so much Kristen, so glad you enjoyed them. Take care.
Mj Drago says
1) Have you tried this recipe in cookie molds into which the dough is pressed? If not, do you think it would work?
2) Since the dough doesn’t spread, can it be used for thumbprint recipes?
Hi Mj do you mean like a spritz cookie? I think the dough might be a bit too firm for that, although you could try and see. And I do think it would work for thumbprint cookies. Let me know if you try it.
Marthajean Drago says
Thank you for your reply. By molds, I was referring to individual oreshki molds and/or wooden cookie molds that are popular at Christmas time (the type that you press the dough into). If you have any thoughts, please let me know.
Hi Marthajean, I think it would work, this dough is quite firm, just make sure to flour the molds well. Let me know how it goes.
Kristen Barr says
What brand of all purpose flour do you use? I can’t find one over 11.7% protein
Hi Kristen, when I am in Canada I use a Robin hood brand, although 11.7 should be ok. Let me know how it goes.
Hello, will be making this. Can you tell me which exact brands you used for each ingredients? Thank you much!
Hi Rica, are you in Italy? You can use a good quality butter, flour with a protein % of at least 11.5%, I use a name brand corn starch and powdered sugar. Hope that helps.
I made your mothers recipe along with many other types of cookies during the holidays. These cookies were the star of the show. Everyone loved them and they were eaten first. I will always make these cookies for all holidays! A real hit!
Hi Penny, thanks so much, so glad everyone enjoyed them. Take care.
Tracie Seidel says
Loved your mothers recipe! I also found it very crumbly but came together beautifully after a bit of kneading. I stuffed them with caramilk squares and they were delicious. Loved the texture of the baked cookie.
Hi Tracie, thanks so much, caramilk squares are one of my favourites, great idea. Take care.
Thank you for these two delicious shortbread recipes. I made your mother’s recipe at Christmas and just this week made your friend’s recipe. Both were perfect, light and tender, but I have to admit, we preferred the flavor of your friend’s cookies. They seemed sweeter. I plan to make these cookies again as gifts for Valentine’s Day using heart and flower cookie cutters.
For your friend’s recipe, I followed the advice you gave with your mother’s recipe to sift four times. You didn’t say to knead the dough in your friend’s recipe, but I tried a little.
So thanks! Both recipes are keepers!
Hi Laurie, thanks so much, I will tell my friend :). Great idea for Valentine’s Day. Take care.