Shortbread is a celebration of simplicity—a combination of butter, sugar, and flour that adds up to so much more.
Shortbread was one of the first baking projects I ever tackled—at a friend’s house in 4th grade under the intense supervision of her mother. I don’t remember much about the cookies but I do remember thinking they were pretty basic. I mean where were the chocolate chips?
Video! How to Make Shortbread Cookies
What is Shortbread?
The “short” part of shortbread refers to the lack of gluten development in this cookie. Liquid activates gluten, but because there’s no liquid in the recipe (and a lot of fat), the gluten doesn’t have a chance to develop into long strands of protein that, in turn, give other baked goods their chewy texture.
Since the gluten is kept “short,” we get a tender, crumbly cookie that melts in the mouth.
The Best Butter for Shortbread
A note on butter—you can make delicious shortbread using whatever butter you normally buy, but if you enjoy the flavor of butter, I would suggest using a premium European-style butter. My personal favorite is Kerrygold.
European butters tend to be denser (aka more fat, less water) than the usual supermarket butter, and make a richly colored and flavored shortbread. I’ve tested this recipe using both types with excellent results!
My only note for European-style butter is to either be sure to find unsalted butter or reduce the salt in the recipe if using salted butter.
Don’t Overwork the Dough!
Even though we’re using a short dough, it’s possible to overwork the dough, causing the cookies to become tough. The best way to avoid a tough cookie is to not handle the dough too much.
A food processor makes quick work of combining the ingredients and prevents me from overworking the dough.
When I make cutout cookies, I try to cut as many cookies as I can the first time, so I only regather the scraps and reroll the dough once.
Swaps & Substitutions for Shortbread
Shortbread’s simplicity lends it to endless adaptations:
- You can pretty much shape it any way. Roll it into a log and slice, roll out and either cut into a grid or stamp out with cookie cutters, press it into a round cake pan and score into wedges before baking, or if you’re fancy and have cookie molds you can press the dough into those for an intricate design.
- You can also flavor shortbread with all sorts of ingredients, from tea leaves, matcha, dried fruit powders, nuts, and chocolate.
I personally love a nutty shortbread—walnut is my favorite! I love the slight bitterness of the walnuts with the sweet, buttery shortbread. Whenever I add nuts or even chocolate, I grind (or grate) it fairly small. In the case of a nutty shortbread, I aim for the flavor to be a part of the dough, as opposed to a mix-in. I also find large chunks disrupt the shape of cut-outs.
How to Store Shortbread Cookies
Shortbread is a great cookie-jar cookie, in that it keeps well at room temperature for several days. I live in the desert, so I keep them in a container to prevent them from drying out—however, when I lived in Michigan and Oregon, the humidity was the enemy. There, I found that storing cookies in a lidded container with a silica gel packet (I just save these from other food packages) keeps the humidity at bay.
These cookies also freeze well, and I freeze them in a freezer bag that I have pressed as much air out of as possible. They will keep for a month or more, but honestly, we never have them around that long.
Love a Good Cookie? Give These A try!
Updated December 22, 2020 : We added a video to help you make the best shortbread cookies ever! No changes to the original recipe. Enjoy!