These classic shortbread cookies are buttery, crumbly, and perfect for Christmas gift-giving. This basic holiday cookie comes together easily with just four simple ingredients.
Classic Shortbread Cookies
Basic shortbread cookies are made with a large amount of butter. This is where the term short comes from. It basically means crumbly and is used to reference pastry and biscuits i.e., strawberry shortcake.
Shortbread cookies are one of those cookies that will keep for several weeks when stored correctly. This is because they contain so few ingredients.
Much like my cardamom shortbread cookies, they're made with just four ingredients that you most likely already have on hand - butter, powdered sugar, flour, and salt. That's it. All too simple!
The signature texture of a shortbread cookie is buttery and crumbly. The cookie will feel as though it's melting in your mouth.
A perfect shortbread cookie should be tender, not crunchy, with less sugar than other types of cookies.
The thing I love most about shortbread cookies is that they aren't overly sweet. They're just sweet enough to remind you they are a cookie but not sugar-laden.
Why this is the best shortbread cookie recipe
- I took a lot of time testing today's cookies. Testing the flour to butter ratio, the amount of sugar, plus the bake temperatures and times.
- Using a 1:3 butter/flour ratio yielded the best texture. The cookies are delicate, light, and dissolve in your mouth.
- I opted for a ½ cup of powdered sugar for sweetness. It's just enough to lightly sweeten the cookies.
- Baking the cookies at a low temperature for a longer period of time gave them a soft, dry crumb that crumbles when you take a bite.
What's the difference between a sugar cookie and a shortbread cookie?
The most obvious answer is sugar cookies contain more sugar than shortbread cookies. Sugar cookies also contain eggs, flavoring, and leavening agents while shortbread cookies lack all these.
Are shortbread and butter cookies the same?
So many people get this confused! Shortbread and butter cookies are NOT the same thing. Much like sugar cookies, butter cookies have more sugar than shortbread cookies. Also, butter cookies bake at a higher temperature than shortbread cookies. And butter cookies don't crumble.
Should I chill my shortbread dough?
My recipe doesn't require chilling but I can tell you that it will make a difference in the texture of the cookie. The cookies bake up softer and lighter in color if the dough has been refrigerated for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking. There are details in the notes of the recipe down below.
How long do homemade shortbread cookies last?
Homemade shortbread cookies will keep for up to 1 week stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Or up to 3 weeks stored in the freezer.
Shortbread Cookie Ingredients
Pretty much all shortbread cookie recipes I've seen use the same few ingredients. That's why these cookies are so great. They don't require any ingredient that you wouldn't already have in the pantry. And if you don't already have the ingredients, they aren't expensive to buy.
- Butter: Use unsalted sweet cream butter for the very best flavor.
- Confectioners' sugar: Also known as powdered sugar. It contains cornstarch and does wonders for the texture of the cookie. Granulated sugar left the cookies too crisp.
- Flour: All-purpose flour is best. Use a good brand like Bob's Red Mill*.
- Salt: Only a pinch of salt is needed. Most recipes don't call for it but I like to add it.
To bake these cookies you'll need:
- Mixer: I always use my KitchenAid Stand Mixer* with the paddle attachment*. It does a better job getting the cookie dough combined.
- You can also use a hand mixer* but the dough will seem more crumbly. I'll cover this more down below.
- Cookie sheet: I love my Nordic Ware aluminum baking sheet*. It promotes even cooking so the cookies come perfect.
- Cookie cutter: I opted to make my cookies 2-inches around with this set of cookie cutters*.
- Cookie stamp: These Nordic Ware cookie stamps* are what I used to decorate the cookies.
How to make shortbread cookies
It’s so easy to make this shortbread cookie recipe. It only takes about 10 minutes to make up the dough, and 15 minutes to roll and cut the dough. The bake time is a bit long but you can busy yourself with other things while cookies are baking.
The Dough – The dough comes together in 15 minutes. It takes about 10 minutes to mix the ingredients together, then about 5 minutes to knead the dough. Shortbread cookie dough is very dry and crumbly. This is normal! You must work it together with your hands.
Step 1: Mix the dough
As always, before you begin anything, set the butter out one hour before you begin so it's softened to room temperature. Also, preheat the oven about 30 minutes prior to making the cookies.
Cream the softened butter with the powdered sugar until well combined. The softer the butter, the creamier the mixture will be, so make sure you've let the butter sit out for one hour before you begin.
If the butter isn't soft enough, the dough will be extra dry and harder to work with.
Add the salt and flour then mix until you have a consistency of sand. It's going to look very dry but when you squeeze the mixture together with will hold. It's much like pie crust dough.
I have found that using a stand mixer works best when it comes to the initial mixing. It's more powerful and gets the butter very well incorporated into the flour.
If you are using a hand-held mixer, you'll have to work the dough together more with your hands.
Step 2: Shape the dough
The dough will be very crumbly at this stage. Now it's time to dump it out onto your work surface and knead it together. Keep pressing it together and folding it over until the dough forms a ball.
It may seem like it's not coming together, just keep kneading and it will.
Lightly dust your work surface with flour and pat the dough ball into a disc. Roll the dough out to ⅜ of an inch thick. I love this rolling pin* for guiding dough thickness.
Use a 2-inch round cookie cutter* to cut out cookies and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press a lightly greased cookie stamp gently over the top. Don't press too hard, just enough to ensure the design transfers onto the cookie. You may need to carefully peel the cookie off the stamp and place it back on the baking sheet.
Step 3: Bake the cookies
The cookies bake at 275°F for 55-65 minutes. The low temperature and long bake time is key to the cookie's delicate crumb.
If you have the patience, refrigerate the shaped cookie dough for 1 hour before baking. The texture is even more phenomenal when cold cookies hit the hot oven.
Since everyone's oven cooks slightly different, start checking the cookies at around 45 minutes. As soon as they start to develop some color, remove them from the oven and let them rest on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Then, move them to a wire rack to cool completely.
This is truly the best shortbread cookie recipe. I think you will love this recipe! It's wonderful for holiday baking and gift-giving.
Tips for making the best shortbread cookies
- Use quality ingredients! I can't stress this enough. The best quality butter and flour will give you the best results.
- Weigh the ingredients. It's all too easy to overmeasure flour when using measuring cups. For the best cookies possible, use a kitchen scale and weigh each ingredient.
- While it's not a make or break for the recipe, refrigerating the cookies before baking will yield a phenomenally soft texture.
If you like these cookies, you’ll also enjoy these other Christmas cookies: