Classic Shortbread Cookie Recipe
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!
If you Liked This Recipe You May Also Enjoy…
If you enjoyed this recipe please leave a comment and give it a 5-star rating!
- 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.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
I’m sorry but your cookies weren’t the best, tip: next time use all purpose flour and don’t skip out on the cornstarch!
Hi Sophie, this is a classic shortbread recipe that traditionally only includes 3 ingredients… butter, flour and powdered sugar. Cornstarch is not an ingredient used in the classic version of shortbread but rather a more modern twist and more commonly associated with a meltaway cookie. Pastry flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose which gives a lighter flakier texture to cookies. It is also important to note that over mixing shortbread is the number one reason why these cookies can become heavier or tougher. Be sure to make it a mission to only mix just until a fine oatmeal texture with ripples of butter is achieved and then press the dough into a ball using the heat of your hands to bring it together so that you can roll it or press it into the pan. There is more on this in the blog post. If you are looking for a meltaway cookie which uses cornstarch check out these two meltaway cookie recipes: Skor Shortbread Meltaways and Key Lime Meltaways.
Thank you so much, I am still a begginer baker, so I probably did something wrong, thank you so much for the response, I will be sure to do that next time, but overall the cookies were pretty good!
My grand mother taught me to cook when I was a child.Her recipe for decorating shortbread cookies was to allow cookies to cool while making a white iceing put a dab of icing on cookie and top with a half pecan
The pecan is a nice touch!
I have tried many shortbread recipes trying to replicate my father’s favorites and have now, after 30 years of trying, have hit the jackpot with this one! Who would have thought it was just these 3 ingredients. Sometimes less really is more. I’ll be sending him a big batch for Christmas. He can’t handle sugar anymore so it’s nice that this recipe only uses a half cup and tastes so spot on! Your grandma’s recipes are true gems! Thank you so much for sharing!!
Hi Barb, This has made my day! I am so grateful to you for sharing and am so happy that this recipe has found you. I hope your dad enjoys them!
Wow i completely enjoy your recipe.So detailed and straight to the point.God bless granny for her tutorials.
Yes. I am lucky to have had such and amazing teacher
I ran out of all purpose flour and googled the internet for a shortbread cookie using pastry flour, as it is the only flour I have in the house at the moment. I’m going to surprise a friend today with bringing her her favourite cookies. It’s February and it’s cold here. This will warm the sweet spot! So I must say this was the easiest recipe to follow and make. I baked a little longer maybe another 3 minutes , likely has something to do with my oven temperature. I must say I was surprised at the temperature suggestion of 300 f. The cookies are now baked. I couldn’t wait to try one. It’s surprisingly sweet as there is only a half cup of icing sugar. Bonus !!! The texture of the cookie while still warm is slightly gummy. The flavour is spot on! Love love love this recipe! Can’t wait to share them with my friend. I think she’s going to love them. It’s now 9:30am and I’ll see her at 3pm so they’ll be firming up nicely ?
I’d definitely give this recipe a try for anyone reading the comments. ?
I am so happy you loved them… You are right they are a little gummy when warm but that is because the butter needs to firm up again to give them the flakiness shortbreads are known for. Hope you and your friend enjoy this afternoon! – Alisa
I am so happy you liked this recipe! Yes they are a bit gummy when they are warm but that is because the butter is hot in the cookie still and needs time to cool down to obtain the flakiness. How did your friend like them?
Thanks for sharing the recipe. Going to try it out in the weekend.
Great let me know what you think
The recipe’s seems nice and I think the food will be so tasty.Thanks for sharing this great blog ! 🙂
I love love love shortbread cookies!! These sound so easy and simple to make as well!
I love the colorful sprinkles on the side! This recipe looks and sounds so delicious.
I really appreciate reading about the finer details of the steps in making an otherwise very simple cookie. With such few ingredients it should really be possible to take the time to let the butter get to room temperature and use a sieve. It makes total sense that the cookies will be more airy and more delicious. Will give it a try. Thank you!
Room temp butter and sifting the dry ingredients makes all the difference. You won’t regret these extra steps.
Yum! I’m a huge shortbread fan, but I’ve never made them myself. I think I’ll try this recipe during Winter Break and see how close I get!
Let me know you they turn out 🙂
These look very festive with the green thingies on the side!
My kids would absolutely love these. This would disappear in no time at our house! This is my kind of a Holiday treat.
Wow. These cookies reflect the spirit of Christmas itself. Just look at them. Just wow.
Cookies designed with green sprinkles? Well, it’s very unique and they really tell that they are also for christmas.
I am not a very good baker but even I could follow these directions! If I get ambitious and can actually find pastry flour I just might try to make them–I am a cookie monster after all!!
Hi Gladys, Pastry flour is actually pretty easy to find and is all I use for 90% of my baking. Cake flour is the next best thing. Pastry flour is worth having on hand because it really makes for a lighter flakier cookie. Good luck!
The recipe seemed easier than I thought. As I am traveling I would be making this once I am back. One query, can I add cardamom in it?
I don’t see why not? That is what is so great about shortbread. Once you have the base down you can really make it your own. I wouldn’t add more than a tbsp though because it is a flour/powder like ingredient so adding too much throws off the butter to dry ingredients ration. But you could totally add cardamom, cinnamon, rosemary, lemon zest. What ever you like!
I love these pictures! I’ve always struggled with shortbread, especially in a mould, so the idea of using a glass dish for speed sounds fab. I’m going to have to try yours with the sprinkles though as they are so pretty!
I have always used a glass since I was a kid. That is how my grandma always did it. I find those molds or cookie cutters hard too. I always end up breaking off the point of the star or an antler or something LOL
Such a great memory with your grandmother. Shortbread cookies are a classic holiday treat. So good!
What a delish cookie! I adore shortbread for the holidays and your version looks perfect.
Oh, these cookies look so gorgeous! Kids would love making these for the coming hols especially that there are just 3 ingredients needed. My daughter in particular started recently to really love baking and I am soo sure she will make these. It really sounds like a great recipe 😉 yummy!
I have made them every year with my kids since the age of about 5. Baking is so good for kids I think. It not only teaches them how to cook but there is so much math involved. Fractions everywhere!
Perfect holiday treat. Looks so beautiful and delicious too. Love the sprinkles.
These cookies look so beautiful for the holidays! I cannot believe there are only 3 ingredients needed. My daughter loves baking and has tried short bread cookies over and over, but hasn’t quite mastered them yet. Thank you so much for the tips, tricks, and visuals!
These look so delicious! They are festive, too! Shortbread cookies are my favorite, but one I have never made! I have to rectify that with all of your tips!
Love the sprinkles on the edges. These would be perfect to leave out for Santa!