Sometimes you just want a cookie and since homemade is best, nothing is easier than these Shortbread Cookies. These buttery, yet crisp cookies are easy to make and they start with three everyday ingredients that you probably have on hand: flour, sugar, and butter.
For years, I looked for a shortbread cookie recipe that would hold its shape when baked and not spread. Time and time again, the picture promised success. A beautiful square, round or rectangle cookie that had straight sides. But time and time again, despite my best efforts of chilling and freezing the cookie dough the cookie would spread.
This cookie recipe not only holds its shape but it's the base recipe for one of my most popular cookies: Cranberry and Pistachio Shortbread Cookie and one of my favorites: Apricot Pistachio Shortbread Cookie.
Why This Recipe Works
Simply put this cookie holds its shape because it's the perfect ratio of flour, butter, and sugar. The amount of flour ensures that the cookie will hold its shape, the butter ensures a buttery cookie and the sugar ensures the right amount of sweetness. Since this cookie has three main ingredients with just a little salt, a good quality butter is important because the taste of the butter is prominent. Bake the cookies at 300F to ensure a pale yellow cookie. The final cookie is tender, slightly crumbly, and absolutely delicious.
Classic Shortbread Cookie Ingredients
The recipe for these shortbread cookies is also known as classic shortbread or 3-2-1 shortbread because it is such a simple recipe. This shortbread recipe has three main ingredients:
- Unbleached All-Purpose Flour. Use all-purpose unbleached flour for this recipe.
- Unsalted Butter. Butter adds flavor and produces a nice tender cookie. You can use salted butter, but don't add the additional salt that the recipe calls for. It's also important to use a good quality butter, such as Challenge Butter or Tillamook butter.
- Sugar. Granulated sugar produces nice crisp edges and helps with the light browning on the bottom edge of the cookie
The 3-2-1 refers to the ratio between flour, butter, and sugar - 12 ounces of flour, 8 ounces of butter, and 4 ounces of sugar. Kosher salt is an optional ingredient, but I like the bump in flavor that the kosher salt brings.
How to Make the Cookies
Weigh the flour, sugar, and butter to get the best results for this cookie. Maintaining the 3-2-1 ratio is important to get a cookie dough that keeps its shape while baking.
Weigh the sugar, butter, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until the ingredients are combined and the mixture is creamy, about 2 minutes.
Add all the flour and mix on medium-low speed until the flour is mixed in and the dough starts to come together. The dough will initially appear crumbly, but eventually come together into large pieces. Mixing the flour in at low speed is important to prevent the development of too much gluten.
Pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface and use your hands to lightly knead the dough until it forms a uniform mass, then roll out to a 1/2-inch circle.
Use a 2-inch cookie cutter to cut out the cookies and reroll the dough scraps to cut out the remaining cookies.
Chill the unbaked cookies for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 days before baking.
Bake the cookies at 300 degrees F to prevent them from browning. If you want a little color on your cookie, increase the oven temperature to 325 degrees and start checking the cookie after 15 minutes.
The cookies are done when you see a little browning on the bottom edge of the cookies. Remove the cookies from the oven, allow them to cool briefly on the baking pan then move them to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
How to Store the Cookies
Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Shortbread cookies keep remarkable well, so they can be enjoyed for a long period of time. These cookies also ship well if you want to send them to friends and family.
Pro Tips for Making This Recipe
- Weigh the ingredients. The ratio of flour, butter and sugar are the key to the cookies keeping their shape
- Use great tasting butter. The taste of the butter is very prominent once the cookies are baked so make sure your butter tastes great.
- Bake the cookies on parchment paper instead of Silpat. I noticed that the bottom of the cookies flare out just a little bit when baked on Silpat
- When baking multiple batches, don't place unbaked cookies on a warm baking sheet.
Recipe - Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, the cookies can be frozen. Cut out the cookie shapes and freeze the cookies in a single layer. Once the cookies are frozen, place them in a freezer bag and store for up to 2 months.
The baked cookies can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to two (2) weeks.
I haven't tested this recipe with gluten-free flour so I don't know how they will turn out.
Shortbread Cookie Variations
I've used this recipe as the basis for several of my favorite cookies on the blog including:
- Strawberry Shortbread Cookies
- Chocolate Cherry Shortbread Cookies
- Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies
There are multiple variations that you can try on your own and here are just a few:
- Make Vanilla Shortbread Cookies by scraping the seeds from half a vanilla bean and rub the seeds into the sugar with your fingers.
- Add your favorite spice: cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg
- Add chopped nuts, dried fruit or dark chocolate
- Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies. Replace the granulated sugar with light or dark brown sugar.
- Dip the cookie in dark chocolate.
The possibilities are endless and this is a great cookie recipe to experiment with. The cookie dough can also be frozen for up to 2 months after cutting out the shapes. Freeze the cookies in a single layer on a baking sheet and then place the cookies in a freezer bag. When baking the cookies straight from the freezer allow an extra 5 minutes for baking.
If you've been looking for a shortbread cookie recipe that produces delicious tasting cookies every time this recipe is the one you've been looking for.
- 4 ounces (114 grams) granulated sugar
- 8 ounces (227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 12 ounces (340 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Place the butter, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer, scrape down the bowl and add all the flour at once. Turn the mixer to low speed and mix until all the flour is just combined. The dough will be crumbly at this point. Increase the mixer speed to medium and mix until the dough has completely come together.
- Turn the cookie dough out onto a lightly floured surface. You can also use a large piece of parchment paper or Silpat.
- Use your hands to shape the dough into a rectangle and lightly flour the top of the dough. Do not use too much flour, just enough to keep the rolling pin from sticking.
- Roll the dough out to 1/2-inch thick. Use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to cut out the cookies. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet about 1-inch apart. Prick each cookie in the center with a fork. Pricking the cookies will ensure they bake in the center.
- Reroll the cookie dough and continue to cut out cookies until all the dough has been used. You might have a small piece left over.
- Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. Chilling the dough will help the cookies hold their shape when baking.
- Bake the cookies for 25-30 minutes. The bottom of the cookies will be lightly golden brown.
- Take the cookies out of the oven and allow them to cool for about 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before moving them to a cookie rack to completely cool.
- The shortbread cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 1 week.