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Simple Shortbread Cookies – Two Ways

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.

Shortbread cookies out of a red bag.


 

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?

Recipe Ingredients

  • Butter – softened be sure to use a good quality butter
  • Sugar – powdered sugar or brown sugar (depending on the recipe)
  • Cornstarch – this helps make a tender cookie and helps keep the cookies from spreading
  • Salt – add flavor
  • Flour – all purpose flour

Brown Sugar Shortbread Ingredients

  • Brown sugar
  • Butter – use a good quality butter
  • Flour – all purpose with at least 11% protein

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.

5 cookies stacked.

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.

beating the butter, sifted flour in a bowl and the dough mixed in a silver mixing bowl

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.

forming the dough ball and rolling and cutting with cookie cutters on a wooden board

Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheets or an un greased non stick cookie sheet and bake.

cookies cut out on parchment paper lined cookie sheet

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.

Cookies in a red bag.

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.

Cream butter and sugar in bowl and flour added.

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.

Form a compact dough on a flat surface.

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.

Dough rolled and cut out and cookies on a cookie sheet before baking.

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.

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”.

4 star shortbread cookies stacked.

Recipe FAQs

Why use powdered sugar in shortbread cookies?

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 higher protein flour, at least 11%, which is most all purpose flours, 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?

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.

Variations

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. You could also dip the baked cookies in melted chocolate, or sprinkle some nuts, coconut or even nonpariels before baking.

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% 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.

Cookies on a baking sheet.

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!

4 Shortbread cookies stacked and some in a red bag.

FAQs

Can the dough be made in advance?

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.

How do you know when shortbread is baked?

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.

Does salted or unsalted butter make a difference?

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.

What does shortbread taste like?

Shortbread has a buttery melt in your mouth crumbly texture. For some people it can even have a dry sandy texture.

Should I refrigerate the shortbread cookie dough?

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.

Can I add flavors to the dough?

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!

Cookies in a red bag.

More Shortbread Cookies You May Enjoy!

4 shortbread cookies stacked.

Simple Shortbread Cookies – Two Ways

Rosemary Molloy
The Best Simple Shortbread Cookies, the ultimate melt in your mouth cookie. Traditional or brown sugar. Your new Christmas Shortbread recipe.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American
Servings 30 cookies
Calories 100 kcal

Ingredients
 
 

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 (at least 11% protein)

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

    Instructions
     

    • 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.

      Notes

      I have received a couple of messages saying my Mom’s shortbread doesn’t come together and they had to add butter, a lot of butter!  So I just made it again and no extra butter is needed, please note this is a dough that needs to be kneaded not whipped and don’t forget the sifting.  It will be crumbly until you start to knead it, then with a little bit of elbow grease you will arrive at the desired dough.  Or you can also bring it together with a stand up mixer. Hope this helps.  Let me know.  Rosemary
      Store the baked completely cooled cookies 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.
      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 a month 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!

      Nutrition

      Calories: 100kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 16mg | Sodium: 56mg | Potassium: 11mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 189IU | Calcium: 3mg | Iron: 1mg
      Did You Make This Recipe?Please leave a comment below or pin it to your Pinterest account!

      Updated from November 30, 2014

      410 Comments

      1. 5 stars
        After I make the doe, I plan on cutting them tomorrow. Should I keep it out room temperature or store the doe in refrigerator?

        1. Hi Beverly, cookie dough should be refrigerated until you plan on using it, it will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. It will probably be very hard, so bring it to room temperature about an hour in order to roll it and cut it. Hope you enjoy it.

      2. 4 stars
        I made your mum’s and it came out quite bland and almost sand like when in mouth. I’m going to try again but I’m super happy that they didn’t spread!!!! I’m practising for my sons bday and these were the first recipe that stayed the same. Any clue on what I could tweak? It came together beautifully but did I knead too much? Or not enough?

        1. Hi Reanna, shortbread isn’t a cookie that is going to be very flavourful, and a good shortbread does feel like sand in the mouth. If you want add some vanilla to give it a vanilla flavour or even almond. Hope that helps.

          1. Thanks for the reply. I am making them again tomorrow for the party on Saturday (got to ice & package them). I’ll add a little like you said (I did, but prob not enough). Thanks for this recipe.

      3. 5 stars
        Just made “My Mom’s Shortbread”. They came out beautifully and are very delicious. After reading reviews that they didn’t work out I almost didn’t make them. I’m so glad I did! I followed the recipe exactly, yes even sifting four times. I wonder if folks think it’s suppose to look like a sugar cookie dough. It is very crumbly but a bit of kneading and it all comes together.

      4. 5 stars
        I made your mom’s shortbread and it turned out fantastic! I did add a little vanilla and toasted pecans and it was perfect! Not overly sweet so it paired well with the sweeter royal icing I put on top. I was also very impressed with how it didn’t need to be chilled before cutting and baking! Such a time saver!

      5. 5 stars
        Just made your Mom’s , easy wonderful no problems. I got 34 small to medium cut out cookies. They were a hit at our family party of 24 people of all ages.
        Everyone asked for the recipe. If you follow the directions and don’t skip or change it they are perfect.
        Merry Christmas and Happy New!!

      6. 4 stars
        Made these today in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (1045m) and definitely advise to chill the brown sugar ones. Typically you have to chill so I was suprised the advise was only to chill if sticky.

        The “mom’s” could use a touch more powdered sugar but turned out wonderfully without chilling.

        Easiest to use a stand mixer and wait patiently for the dough to come together.

      7. Hi Stephanie. I’m looking forward to trying this with a rolling pin that has designs on it to imprint the dough. In the US, butter can be salted or unsalted. Am I correct that I should use the unsalted? Thanks and Merry Christmas.

        1. Hi Lynda, you can use either salted or unsalted. I use only salted because I can’t get unsalted here and I have never had a problem. Just add a bit more salt if you use unsalted butter.

          1. Aha…now I’m no longer confused about the “salted-unsalted” butter… Thought I was the only one.

      8. I could not even kneed the Mom’s receipe. It was a disaster I had to add additional butter. Once I did, it was workable & finished product was delicious.

      9. 5 stars
        These came out great. I had no issues with the dough. In fact, I think these were the easiest cookies I’ve made this season and man are they good. I made some shortbread 2 weeks ago and it spread all over and came out crispy. These are thick and soft. My cookies came out just like yours. My inky complaint is that next time I will need to quadruple this recipe because these aren’t going to last long!

      10. 5 stars
        I followed the “My friend recipe” and i love it! So easy, so few ingredients but so yummy and they keep their shape well for cut outs!

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