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Classic Shortbread Recipe

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The secret of shortbread’s buttery crumb lies in its simplicity. This classic shortbread recipe is a simple blend of 4 basic ingredients; butter, sugar, and flour resulting in a taste far more than the sum of its parts.

Shortbread cookies are probably one of my favorite Christmas cookies, but I make these cookies all year long! They are so versatile, you can make them in a pan, or roll and cut into shapes!

If you love a buttery cookie, you are going to love these other family TFC Favorites: Eggnog Gooey Butter Cookies, Greek Butter Cookies and Pan Banging Sugar Cookies <<– a must try!

Classic Shortbread Recipe with shortbread fingers sitting diagonally on a wooden tray

A Classic Scottish Shortbread Recipe

I believe the secret to delectable, buttery, soft, melt in your mouth shortbread comes from quality ingredients.

The better the butter, the better the shortbread! No blends here! If it’s soft coming out of the fridge, it’s not pure butter, splurge for these delicious cookies.

Classic Shortbread Recipe shows Shortbread fingers sliced and sitting askew on parchment paper

History of Shortbread Cookies

According to Saveur this delicious confection was once considered a festive food consumed only on Christmas or on Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s Eve, shortbread has evolved into a treat enjoyed year-round—and there are as many variations of it as days in the calendar.

Since medieval times the term short has been used to describe all things crisp and crumbly, but it wasn’t applied to cake and bread until the 1600s, when it came to refer to baked goods that contained a lot of butter or shortening.

The first shortbread recipe appeared in a Scottish cookbook dated 1736; early formulas called for yeast, but by 1850 most were utilizing only butter, flour, and sugar, combined in a ratio bakers still use.

Ingredients for Classic Butter Shortbread Recipe

Ingredients for classic shortbread recipe. left to right. Cornstarch, vanilla, salt, real butter, all purpose flour and cane sugar

This is a recipe from a dear Scottish friend of our family, I halved the original recipe I have been using for decades.

It yields about 2 ½ dozen, but know that the recipe is easily doubled to make 5 dozen Scottish Shortbread Cookies.

  • Unsalted butter | Use the real deal, no blends here, real creamery butter, salted may also be used, but omit the salt
  • Sugar | I use all natural pure cane sugar, white or bakers sugar may be substituted
  • Pure vanilla Extract | Adds a lovely vanilla hint to the coookie
  • All-purpose flour | I use unbleached flour for all of my baking
  • Cornstarch | This will give it a soft, buttery bite, I like non GMO starch
  • Sea salt | Or kosher salt, you just need a touch!

How to Make Classic Shortbread Recipe

Process shots for Classic shortbread cookies. 1. adding sugar to butter. 2. whisking together salt, flour and cornstarch. 3. adding flour mixture to sugar/butter mix. 4. crumbly dough before kneading
  1. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well about 2-3 minutes. Stir in vanilla.
  2. Combine flour, cornstarch, and salt and whisk until combined
  3. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed after each addition. (Mixture will be stiff) 
  4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; it will be crumbly.
process shots for classic shortbread cookies. 5. kneading dough smooth. Placing in jelly roll pan. 7. smoothing into pan. 8. pricking with fork and scoring
  1. Knead dough until it holds together, about 7-8 times.
  2. Press dough into an un-greased 11×7 or 9×9 pan (if doubling, use a 15×10 in jellyroll pan, parchment lined if desired for easier removal). 
  3. Prick dough at 1-inch intervals with a fork, and score (cut) into 2 ½ x 1 inch bars. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. *Make sure to chill, this will firm the butterfat back up allow for that delectable light, crisp crumb you get with Scottish Shortbread.
  4. If desired sprinkle with raw sugar or colored sugars before baking.
  5. Bake at 325F degrees for 35 minutes, until set and very lightly golden. Cool in pan on a wire rack 5 minutes; cut shortbread into bars using previously scored lines. Cool completely before removing from pan. Store in airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week, or freeze up to 6 months.
Best Classic Shortbread Recipe with image of knife slicing through the scored marks of fresh baked shortbread

What Type of Sugar is Used in Shortbread Cookies

You will find recipes using all types of sugar! Classic white sugar, castor or Baker’s sugar (here in the states) and powdered sugar.

I use all natural cane sugar, the grain is a little larger, but I love the slightly caramel flavor it lends to the shortbread.

For this recipe, you can easily replace the sugar with classic white, or bakers sugar, but I have never tried using powdered or confectioners sugar, let me know if you try it.

Why is my shortbread dough crumbly? And How do I fix it?

  • The quality of your butter and the amount of fat it contains can change the moisture content, so be sure to start with REAL butter.
  • How did you measure the flour? Might be too much flour. Use the spoon and level method
  • Did you use all-purpose flour? Perhaps you used a pastry or whole wheat flour, whole wheat flour absorbs more moisture which would lend to a dryer crumb.
  • Be sure to cream your butter and sugar together well, at least 2-3 minutes on medium speed.
  • Knead! The dough will be somewhat crumbly when you take it from the mixer, get in there with your hands and gently knead the dough until it begins to come together.

How Do I fix Crumbly Shortbread?

  • Try kneading it a few times and see if it begins to hold together, something about kneading by hand will typically bring the mixture together.
  • Add softened butter, a few teaspoons at a time
  • If still too crumbly to hold a shape, add a touch of water, again teaspoons at a time, mixing until it holds it shape.
  • If it holds it shape enough to press into a baking pan, don’t worry too much about how crumbly it is, it should blend and bake together well.

Can I freeze this Classic Shortbread recipe?

Yes, yes and yes! You can freeze the dough and bake as directed, or simply freeze the baked cookies and thaw at room temperature.

If baking frozen dough, bake an additional 2-3 minutes, covering with foil if they start browning too quickly. Remove from freezer for 20-30 minutes while you preheat your oven.

Close up shot of shortbread fingers on wooden platter with crumbs from Classic Shortbread Recipe

Gluten Free Shortbread Cookies

I have found that when the ingredients are simple, it’s easy to convert recipes to be gluten free. I haven’t tried making shortbread gluten free, let me know if you do!

Substitute the all-purpose flour for your favorite 1-to-1 Gluten Free All Purpose Flour or try Almond Flour as well, many cookies do extremely well made with almond flour!

High Altitude Adjustments

This recipe is a winner at sea level and high altitude and anywhere in between! No adjustments necessary!

Print Out These Cute Free Christmas Gift Tags to go with your gift!

How to Shape Shortbread!

  • Shortbread dough is quite versatile. If you want to cut shapes with your cookie cutters, chill the dough in 2-3 discs wrapped in plastic wrap for 2 hours.
  • Roll or press dough to about ⅓ – 1/2 inch thick and press cookie cutters into dough, transferring shapes with a spatula to a parchment lined cookie sheet. Like these fun Valentine’s Day Shortbread cookies
Heart Shaped Scottish Shortbread cookies dipped in white chocolate with light pink sprinkles.
  • Or shape into rectangle about ¼ inch thick and cut into finger sized rectangles, piercing with a fork for the traditional shortbread appearance. or cut into squares, then cut squares at a diagonal.
Pretty Wedge shaped Scottish shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate on a galvanized tray
  • Transfer to parchment lined cookie sheet with a few inches between each cookie for a crisper cookie. Bake at 325 for 10-12 minutes, do not let them brown (golden is fine.)
  • If you want to get really fancy, press dough into a pretty shortbread mold.
Molded Classic Shortbread Recipe using a snowflake mold, sitting on cutting board with twinkle lights and a sprig of evergreen

CHOCOLATE DIPPED SHORTBREAD COOKIES

If you’d like to dip these shortbread cookies into a little dark, milk or white chocolate as shown in the pictures.

  • 1 cup of your choice of chips (dark chocolate, semi-sweet, milk or white chocolate chips)
  • 2 teaspoons butter

Melt on high in 20-30 second intervals, stirring well between heatings. The chocolate will continue to melt with residual heat, it’s important not to overheat it as it will cause the chocolate to “break”. If it does burn or break, try adding a teaspoon at a time of a little vegetable oil whisking until smooth and glossy.

Dip as desired and add sprinkles if desired.

I hope you try this simple cookie and trust that it will soon become your favorite cookie as well!

Need more great holiday cookie recipes?

Don’t forget to PIN to your favorite Cookies board!

Long Pin image for Pinterest for Scottish Shortbread Cookies. Top image, baked shortbread cookies sliced and sitting askew on parchment. Bottom image has shortbread fingers lined up on diagonal on wooden tray.

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Yield: 30 cookies

Classic Shortbread Recipe

wooden platter filled with shortbread fingers

The secret of shortbread’s buttery crumb lies in its simplicity. This classic shortbread recipe is a simple blend of butter, sugar, and flour resulting in a taste far more than the sum of its parts.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Chill Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 50 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well about 2-3 minutes. Stir in vanilla.
  2. Combine flour, cornstarch, and salt whisking to mix; gradually add to butter mixture, beating at low speed after each addition. (Mixture will be stiff and may be crumbly) 
  3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly 8-10 times.
  4. Press dough into an un-greased 11x7 or 9x9 pan (if doubling, use a 15x10 in jellyroll pan, parchment lined if desired for easier removal). 
  5. Prick dough at 1-inch intervals with a fork, and score (cut) into 2 ½ x 1 inch bars. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Make sure to chill, this will firm the butterfat back up allow for that delectable light, crisp crumb you get with Scottish Shortbread. If desired, sprinkle with all natural sugar or sanding sugar before baking.
  6. Bake at 325F degrees for 35 minutes, until set and lightly browned. Cool in pan on a wire rack 5 minutes; cut shortbread into bars using previously scored lines. Cool completely before removing from pan. Store in airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week, or freeze up to 6 months. This recipe easily doubles!

Notes

As you can see shortbread dough is quite versatile. If you want to cut shapes with your cookie cutters, chill the dough in 2-3 discs wrapped in plastic wrap for 2 hours. SEE VIDEO FOR HOW TO

  • Roll or press dough to about ⅓ inch thick and press cookie cutters into dough, transferring shapes with a spatula to a parchment lined cookie sheet. Like these fun Valentine's Day Shortbread cookies
  • Or shape into rectangle about ¼ inch thick and cut into finger sized rectangles, piercing with a fork for the traditional shortbread appearance. or cut into squares, then cut squares at a diagonal.
  • Transfer to parchment lined cookie sheet with a few inches between each cookie for a crisper cookie. Bake at 325 for 10-12 minutes, do not let them brown (golden is fine.)
  • If you want to get really fancy, press dough into a pretty shortbread mold.

Why is my dough so crumbly and how do I fix it!

  • The quality of your butter and the amount of fat it contains can change the moisture content, so be sure to start with REAL butter.
  • How did you measure the flour? Might be too much flour. Use the spoon and level method
  • Did you use all-purpose flour? Perhaps you used a pastry or whole wheat flour, whole wheat flour absorbs more moisture which would lend to a dryer crumb.
  • Be sure to cream your butter and sugar together well, at least 2-3 minutes on medium speed.
  • Knead! The dough will be somewhat crumbly when you take it out from the mixer, get in there with your hands and gently knead the dough until it begins to come together.
  • To fix, try kneading by hand for several minutes until it comes together.
  • If still too crumbly to hold its shape, add a few drops of water and knead in, or try a few teaspoons of butter.

CHOCOLATE DIPPED SHORTBREAD COOKIES

If you'd like to dip these shortbread cookies into a little dark, milk or white chocolate as shown in the pictures on the post.

  • 1 cup of your choice of chips (dark chocolate, semi-sweet, milk or white chocolate chips)
  • 2 teaspoons butter

Melt on high in 30 second intervals, stirring well between heatings. The chocolate will continue to melt with residual heat, it's important not to overheat it as it will cause the chocolate to "break". Dip as desired and add sprinkles if desired.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

30 cookies

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 102Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 10mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 0gSugar: 3gProtein: 1g

The nutritional information is estimated and may not be entirely accurate, at times it pulls information for suggestions and options which may increase calories, etc. Nutritional information will change based on used ingredients, quantities used, etc.

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