A classic shortbread cookie with their buttery taste and flaky texture they just melt in your mouth. This recipe is the Best Shortbread Cookie Recipe ever hands down.
This recipe was originally published on November 25, 2018, and has been updated to include updated photos.
With only 3 ingredients you would think shortbread cookies are easy. They are but there is definitely a technique to achieving a light and flaky texture.
My Grandma McFeeters has now passed but one of the best days with her ever was a day we spent baking together. That day she passed down a century’s worth of recipes and tricks to making perfect baked goods. No gadgets, just old-school baking!
My grandmother was about 90 at the time but still full of energy and on the day of my visit, she had handwritten cards with all the family recipes waiting for me. Today I am passing on some of the learnings to you.
More of my Grandma’s recipes
Ingredients you’ll need
- Unsalted butter – softened to room temperature. As a rule of thumb unsalted butter should always be used in baked good recipes simply because using butter without salt already added will make it easier to add the exact amount of salt needed for a recipe without overdoing it.
- Pastry flour – has a lower protein content than regular all-purpose flour which helps to achieve a lighter fluffier texture in any cookie. If you don’t have pastry flour my grandma always told me to use all-purpose but leave out a tbsp worth per cup from the measurement.
- Icing sugar – otherwise known as confectioners sugar or powdered sugar.
Making 3-ingredient shortbread cookies
Shortbread Cookies can be a little finicky but follow these instructions and pay attention to the pictures and they will work out great.
First, the butter needs to be at room temperature. Now, this does not mean putting it in the microwave to soften. That won’t work and will ruin your shortbread. You need to take your pound of unsalted butter and let it sit on the counter and naturally soften usually overnight or a few hours in advance. You can’t rush a masterpiece!
Once softened cube the butter and add it to a large bowl.
Place a large sieve over the top of the bowl and then add the pastry flour and icing sugar. Using a fork or a spoon stir the flour and sugar together so that it blends together and falls below into the butter. This process not only ensures that the sugar and flour are well mixed but also removes any clumps.
Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour mixture to start.
Make sure you wash your hands before starting this next step because now it is time to get your hands dirty!
Using your hands grab handfuls of the flour and butter mixture and use your thumb to press the dough and flour together and use a motion like you are counting money to create a buttery crumble. You are trying to create a texture sort of like chunky oatmeal.
The goal with shortbread is to not overwork the dough. You want ripples of butter throughout the flour mixture. When baked the water from the butter evaporates and creates airy pockets that give a flaky texture to this classic shortbread cookie recipe.
Once an oatmeal consistency is achieved press the mixture together using the heat from your hands and gently knead when possible working to form a fall of dough.
This is another step where you want to do this for as little time as possible. Overworking the dough will make for a tougher less flaky shortbread.
Once done you have two choices.
You can either press the dough evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 8″ X 8″ glass pan or roll the dough out into shaped cookies.
If you chose like I did this time to make squares. Press the dough evenly into the pan and then use a fork to prick the dough all over the bottom. This will help the shortbread cookie dough cook evenly.
Bake in an oven preheated to 300ºF for 30-40 minutes or until the bottom is lightly brown and the top looks flaky with slightly browned edges. The top should feel firm to the touch as well.
The reason I like to use a glass pan for this recipe is so that I can see how well the bottom is browning as a gauge when they are done.
Cut these easy shortbread cookies into squares when warm with a sharp knife and then let completely cool before taking them out of the pan. Unlike many cookies, shortbread tastes best cold.
How to make rolled shortbread cookies
Instead of placing in a baking dish, sprinkle your clean counter with flour and a little on your rolling pin and gently roll the dough out to about a 1/2″ thickness.
Cut the dough with a round cookie cutter or any shape you like. You can add sprinkles now or ice later when completely cooled if you wish.
Bake at 300ºF for about 10 minutes or until they are firm to the touch and only just starting to brown on the bottom. Remove from the pan to a cooling rack.
what type of flour is best for shortbread?
I recommend pastry flour. If you want light and flaky shortbread cookies you need to use pastry flour. Pastry flour is a lower-protein flour that produces lighter and flakier cookies than all-purpose flour.
If you only have all-purpose flour you can use it instead of the pastry flour but the measurements for the flour will be different. 1 cup of pastry flour = 1 cup less 1 tbsp of all-purpose flour. Here is a great article about flour in baking and reasonable substitutions from How Stuff Works.
how do you store shortbread cookies?
Shortbread cookies are best completely cooled. Once they are completely cooled store them in an airtight tin lined with wax paper for up to two weeks. The longer they sit the better they taste.
Can you freeze shortbread cookies?
Yes. After the shortbread cookies have completely cooled place them in an airtight container and freeze for up to one month. Thaw completely before serving or if you can’t wait they taste really really good cold.
Now that you have the basics let’s talk about how to decorate them or make this recipe your own.
What is the difference between butter cookies and shortbread?
It comes down to the proportion between the three main ingredients – butter, sugar and flour.
Shortbread has the highest ratio of butter to flour which gives them their signature flaky texture. Sugar cookies have a higher ratio of flour to fat and more sugar giving them more structure which allows for them to be easily cut into shapes that will hold.
Butter cookies are smack dab in between these two. More flour and more sugar than a shortbread but not as much as a sugar cookie.
What is the difference between english and Scottish shortbread.
Well, English style is the best shortbread cookie recipe! Sorry to my Scottish friends out there I know this is a divisive topic!
They are actually both delicious but have distinctively different textures. English shortbread is softer and flakier whereas Scottish shortbread still has the wonderful buttery flavour but is combined with shortening as well giving Scottish shortbread a firmer, crisper texture.
Ways to Jazz Up Your Shortbread
- Cut them into unique shapes using a cookie cutter
- Decorate by rolling edges in sprinkles or coloured sugar
- Dip them into melted chocolate
- Add ingredients like rosemary, lemon zest, dried cranberries etc. Once you have the base you can make these your own!
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- Measuring Cups
- Large Sieve
- Pastry Cutter (optional)
- 8" X 8" glass baking dish
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temp
- 2 1/2 cups pastry flour
- 1/2 cup icing sugar
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees
- In a large bowl add butter cubed
- Place large sieve over the bowl and add flour and icing sugar to sieve
- Run flour and icing sugar through sieve to ensure well blended and no lumps
- Blend by hand the icing sugar and flour into the butter until it forms an oatmeal like texture
- Knead mixture to form a large ball
- Bake for 30 minutes or until cookies are firm to the touch and only just starting to brown on the bottom
- Remove cookies from the oven and using a sharp knife cut into even squares. Let cool completely before eating.