These classic shortbread cookies are made with just 5 ingredients: butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, and a pinch of sea salt. A simple, perfect approach to a beloved Scottish tradition that’s a perfect Christmas cookie.
There are quite a lot of shortbread cookies impostors out there. You know, sugar cookies that are okay but aren’t as tender or delicate or buttery or spectacularly simple as classic shortbread that call for just flour, butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Rest assured, this easy shortbread cookies recipe is the real deal and, as such, is eminently giftable.–David Leite
☞ Table of Contents
Why our testers loved this
Our testers are saying lots of impressive stuff about these shortbread cookies. They’re calling them “the easiest cookie recipe you will ever make” and “delightful.” Our testers were all in agreement that being able to make these cookies without a mixer and with just 5 ingredients means that this recipe is a keeper.
Notes on ingredients
- Unsalted butter–If you use salted butter, don’t add a pinch of fine sea salt to the dough.
- Superfine sugar–Using superfine sugar ensures that the shortbread has a delicate ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ texture. If you don’t have superfine sugar on hand, just toss your granulated sugar into a blender or food processor and blitz until finely ground, but not powdery.
How to make this recipe
- Make the dough. Rub the butter into the flour, then add the sugar, vanilla, and salt, and knead until the dough is smooth.
- Roll and chill the dough. Roll the dough between two sheets of parchment, then transfer to the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes.
- Cut out the cookies. Preheat the oven to 375°F and cut out star shapes from the rolled cookie dough. Re-roll dough scraps to make as many cookies as you can.
- Bake the cookies. Cook until the cookies are very pale golden, then cool and sprinkle with more sugar, if desired.
What’s the difference between shortbread and sugar cookies?
Both types of cookies are delicious and can be made into cut-out cookies, but they are different. The main difference is that sugar cookies use a leavening agent, such as baking powder or baking soda, which makes them lighter than shortbread. Since shortbread uses significantly more butter, it has a denser texture and richer flavor than sugar cookies do.
Can I decorate these cookies?
Absolutely. Our testers loved dipping the shortbread in chocolate and topping them with sprinkles, but you could also sprinkle some sanding sugar onto the cookies while baking, or decorate the cooked cookies with icing.
Can you make shortbread ahead of time?
Yes, you can. The unbaked dough can be kept refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month before baking. Baked and cooled cookies can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
How can you tell when shortbread is done?
The cookies are ready when they have an even pale golden color. Don’t wait for them to turn brown.
- Chilling your dough before rolling and cutting gives you nice sharp edges for these shortbread cut-out cookies.
- To make rolling the dough easier, place it between two pieces of parchment before rolling.
- If you don’t want to use a cookie cutter, the dough can be shaped into a log, chilled, and then sliced into round cookies before baking.
More great shortbread recipes
☞ If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David
Classic Shortbread Cookies
- 2-inch (5-cm) star cookie cutter (or substitute another size or shape cutter)
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the work surface
- 7 tablespoons (3 1/2 oz) unsalted butter cubed and softened
- 1/4 cup superfine sugar (or just blitz granulated sugar in a blender until finely ground but not powdery) plus more for finishing
- 2 drops vanilla extract
- Pinch fine sea salt (optional)
- Dump the flour in a large bowl, add the butter, and use your fingertips to rub them together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Stir in the sugar, vanilla extract, and salt, if using, and work the mixture with your hands until it forms small clumps. Continue kneading the cookie dough until it's smooth and the sides of the bowl are clean. It's okay if the cookie dough is a little crumbly. (You can wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to several hours although you'll need to let it warm at room temperature before you're able to roll it.)
- Gently roll out the dough between a couple sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to a thickness between 1/4 and 1/2 inch (1/2 to 1 1/4 centimeters). The dough is a little more crumbly and dry than most roll-out cookie doughs, so don't worry if it cracks or crumbles a little.
- Carefully transfer the dough to the refrigerator or freezer for at least 15 minutes. (The time spent in the fridge may test your patience, but it helps set the dough so it doesn't spread into blobs during baking. If you're impatient and bake the dough without chilling, chances are you'll end up with some amorphous starfish rather than linear stars.)
- Preheat the oven to 275°F (130°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Using a star cutter, cut out the cookies and transfer them to the baking sheet. Roll the scraps and cut out as many more cookies as you can. It may be necessary to let the dough rest at room temperature for a little while prior to being able to roll it out.
- Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 22 to 30 minutes, until very pale gold in color.
- Remove the cookies from the oven, let them cool a few minutes on the baking sheet, and then sprinkle with superfine sugar while still warm.
- Make-ahead–The cookie dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month before baking.
- Freezing–Baked shortbread cookies can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Slice-and-bake variation–To make slice-and-bake cookies, shape the cookie dough into a log, wrap it in plastic, and chill until firm. Slice the cookies, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake until pale golden.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I made these classic shortbread cookies for a holiday party at the last minute and they turned out very well. They were simple to make and the dough is fairly easy to work with—great for getting kids in the kitchen over the holidays.
I was able to roll out my dough immediately after making it and it was fairly pliable. I rolled it between 2 sheets of parchment paper and had no trouble with it, even on the fourth re-roll of the scraps.
My dough was rolled out to the thickness of my cutter, which was 1/2 inch high. My star cutter was 2 inches across (measuring from the tips of the widest points), and this recipe made 24 stars of that size.
I loved these—I dipped them in chocolate and sprinkled them with holiday-colored sprinkles. And you could, presumably, make a lot of these and freeze the stars to bake up when you need them, no?
These delightful shortbread cookies are delicious and only take 5 ingredients and need no mixer! Using a star cookie cutter and sprinkling superfine sugar on top really added an elegance to this simple cookie.
The dough isn’t too sticky to put in between sheets of plastic or parchment and roll out right away but putting the rolled-out dough in the freezer for at least 15 minutes will help make it easier to cut out the stars. When the dough is too soft, you don’t get the sharp lines of the stars and the cookies look more like starfish.
I ended up leaving the dough in the freezer for a couple hours, so it ended up freezing solid. It took about 1 hour for the dough to get to a temperature that I could roll the dough. (If I was in a hurry, I’d roll the dough into a log and put it in the freezer for the required hour and then slice the dough into circles. It wouldn’t be as pretty as stars but would still taste delicious!)
These classic shortbread cookies are the easiest you will ever make. This makes classic shortbread—buttery and crisp and hard to eat just one!
When a recipe specifies softened butter, it really means that the butter has been out of the refrigerator for a while, and there’s a bit of “give” when it’s pressed. It doesn’t mean completely soft.
That said, the softness of the butter will determine whether or not you can roll out the dough right away (between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or 2 sheets of parchment paper) or need to refrigerate the dough. I put my dough disk in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and it rolled out very easily.
Rather than using superfine sugar to decorate the cookies after they were baked, I used coarse red and clear sanding sugar crystals to give them more of a holiday look. I brushed the cookies with a little water after they baked for 15 minutes, sprinkled on the sugar, and then baked them for another 15 minutes.
I used a 2 1/2-inch cutter and the yield was 20 cookies
These were very precious little shortbread cookies. The flavor is very simple and met the ”is this what shortbread tastes like?” test with my English friends and spouse. It also gets the approval of those who don’t want nuts or other things to interfere with their cookie experience.
This shortbread cut out cookies recipe could be made even easier if you roll the dough inside a resealable plastic bag. (If you want super thin cookies, roll the dough inside a gallon bag. For thicker cookies, a smaller size bag would work.)
I used an old-fashioned pastry cutter to blend in my butter, just out of habit. For future batches I may use the food processor, although a small batch of cookies doesn’t take long to do by hand. The dough seemed crumbly and fragile, so I kept the stars small (I used a 1 1/2-inch cutter).
After your first go, take the trims and gently press them together in the bag and re-roll. These will be more likely to have tiny cracks, but don’t worry because they should be fine once cooked and, if you’re like me, you hate to waste dough. The dusting of fine sugar after baking seemed superfluous, and after testing it on a couple, I skipped it.
I had to try a green tea version. Not only did that batch have a lovely color that was perfect for the holidays, with a bit of ginger powder plus the matcha, it had a nice flavor begging for a cuppa tea. I added 1 tablespoon matcha and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger. The mixture of plain and green tea shortbread cookies made a nice plate of cookies for a holiday gathering.
These shortbread cookies are delicious and easy. The texture and taste are light and airy, almost as if they were made with confectioners’ sugar.
I was worried about the 2 drops of vanilla not mixing in but the cookies tasted fine. I refrigerated the dough for 1 hour and then left it out on my granite countertop for about 20 minutes before rolling it out.
The dough was easy to work with and baked up as advertised in 30 minutes. I sprinkled the cookies with sanding sugar after they cooled for about 2 minutes as I was concerned that the sugar wouldn’t adhere if I let them cool for too long. They were beautiful stars with a little shimmer!