3-Ingredient Shortbread Cookies Recipe (2024)

About My 3-Ingredient, No-Spread, Shortbread Cookies Recipe

Shortbread cookies are one of the most delicious holiday cookies, and they’re also probably the easiest to make! This recipe gives cookies that are super buttery, and literally melt-in-your-mouth. The base recipe has only three ingredients, yet still leaves lots of room to get creative—it works beautifully with a variety of mix-ins such as lemon zest, chocolate chips, dried fruit and nuts.

I designed the recipe so that these cookies hold their shapes perfectly as they bake. So, you can get creative making different shapes and designs and get stunning results!

This recipe is taken from my cookbook, Simple Pleasures.

Why this recipe works

I designed this shortbread recipe so that the cookies will hold their shapes and patterns beautifully when they bake. To enable this, there are a few differences to many traditional Scottish shortbread recipes.

In particular, I’m using powdered sugar (icing sugar) rather than the traditional granulated sugar. The powdered sugar gives the cookies a fine texture, and helps them retain a precise shape as they bake. It does this in a couple of ways.

First, the fine powder dissolves into the butter quickly. This is important because we want to work quickly so as not to incorporate air into the mixture, otherwise the cookies will puff up and not keep their precise shapes when they bake.

Second, powdered sugar contains corn starch (to stop the powered sugar setting solid in its packaging). This gives us another benefit for the recipe. The polysaccharides that make up cornstarch interrupt the gluten network in the shortbread dough, reducing its elasticity, and helping to prevent the cookies from spreading out as they bake.

What is the secret to making good shortbread?

It’s the combination of lots of good, salty butter and sugar which gives shortbread cookies their amazing flavor. Use the best quality butter you can find – the better it is, the more delicious your shortbread will be. Under no circ*mstances use “spreadable from the fridge” products. You must use butter that is solid when in the fridge.

What is the difference between a butter cookie and a shortbread cookie?

The difference between butter cookies and shortbread cookies is the amount butter in the recipe vs the amount of sugar. Butter cookies typically are made using more sugar and less butter than shortbread. Shortbread cookies contain more butter, which gives them their amazing crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth texture.

What are common mistakes when making shortbread?

The most common mistakes when making shortbread are over-working the dough, and incorporating too much flour. The less you work the dough, the more crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth your shortbread cookies will be. When you’re working the dough, try to avoid incorporating extra flour, because it will throw the recipe off and make the cookies tough.

Get creative with cutters, stamps, molds, and embossed rolling pins

By mixing and matching different cookie cutters, cookie stamps, molds and more, you can make a stunning range of unique cookies. For example, combining a circular cookie cutter with a snowflake stamp makes it easy to create snowflake shortbread cookies.

Then, you can take the idea a stage further to cut out holes, to make sandwich cookies where the filling e.g. jam, shows through.

Or, use cookie molds to create beautiful, intricately patterned cookies in a few seconds. For example, this pine cone cookie.

Some ideas for shortbread mix-ins / additions

Shortbread is really flexible when it comes to mix-ins and other additions. I love adding pistachios or chocolate chips. Dried cranberries and pecans is a combination that work well, and is very festive. You could also try peanuts or walnuts and raisins. Chopped up pieces of preserved ginger in syrup (stem ginger) are another delicious add-on.

Another great addition is to scent the shortbread using citrus. Grated lemon, orange and clementine zest all work really well. Similarly, if you like spices, adding vanilla extract, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon or ground ginger can be delicious.

Sprinkling the shortbread with granulated sugar before baking is also delicious and traditional.

Finally, dipping shortbread in melted white, milk or dark chocolate is a delicious addition.

Make Ahead and Freeze

Once the shortbread cookies have been baked and are fully cool, store them rigid airtight containers. They will keep for up to 5 days at room temperature. They can be frozen in the airtight containers for up to 3 months. To defrost, take the cookies out of their containers and place on a wire rack at room temperature for about an hour.

Unbaked shortbread dough freezes well. Covered tightly with plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost the unbaked dough in the fridge over night before rolling out and shaping the cookies.

3-Ingredient Shortbread Cookies Recipe (2024)


What is the secret to making good shortbread cookies? ›

Tips To Make the Best Shortbread Cookies
  1. Choose High Quality Butter. No matter what brand of butter you buy, if it's real butter, you can rest assured that it's the best. ...
  2. Keep Ingredients Simple. ...
  3. Add Flavor. ...
  4. Don't Overwork. ...
  5. Shape Dough. ...
  6. Chill Before Baking. ...
  7. Bake Until Golden. ...
  8. Add Finishing Touches.

What is the mistake in making shortbread? ›

The key with shortbread is not to overhandle it. Make the dough exactly as instructed, but don't mess around making shapes or over rolling the dough - you will end up with delicious but tough biscuits.

What is the difference between a butter cookie and shortbread cookie? ›

Due to differing ratios, shortbread cookies are crumblier and more "sandy" than butter cookies, which are firm and solid enough to be iced. This mostly has to do with flour and eggs. Shortbread doesn't use eggs, while butter cookies do, making butter cookie dough more pliable and robust than its shortbread counterpart.

Is it best to chill shortbread dough before baking? ›

As Leiths also recommend chilling the dough before baking, although only for 15 minutes, I make another batch of their recipe with soft butter, stick it straight in the oven without passing the fridge, and end up with thinner, crunchier biscuits – presumably because the mixture spreads as the fat melts.

What's the difference between Irish shortbread and Scottish shortbread? ›

Irish Shortbread Is Distinct From Scottish Shortbread

Irish shortbread not only sometimes changes up the butter-to-sugar ratio (possibly going with 2/3 a cup of sugar to 1 cup of butter), but also adds cornstarch in place of some of the flour present in the traditional recipe.

Should butter be cold for shortbread? ›

Should butter be cold or room temperature for making shortbread? Always start with cold butter straight from the refrigerator. This will keep the dough from warming up, making it greasy and difficult to roll out.

Why poke holes in shortbread? ›

The word "bread" comes from "biscuit bread" which was made from leftover bread dough that was sweetened and dried out in the oven to make biscuits. Why do you poke holes in shortbread? The holes allow the moisture to escape during baking and more even heat distribution. This helps dry out and crisp up the cookies.

Why is shortbread unhealthy? ›

However, lipids, which are a component to food such as shortbread cookies are considered unhealthy because they are the most energetic nutrients in food and are a source of saturated fatty acids (SFA) (usually 40%) and sometimes also trans fatty isomers (TFA) [4,5,6].

What is the new name for shortbread? ›

Shortbread is now Trefoils®!

What is traditional Scottish shortbread made from? ›

Traditional Scottish shortbread is a simple recipe made with sugar, butter, flour, and salt. Other shortbread styles will include leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda, which makes them crisp instead of crumbly like traditional Scottish shortbread.

Why use unsalted butter in shortbread? ›

Here's why: Most importantly: unsalted butter ensures that you can control the amount of salt you add to your cakes, cookies and Fig and Almond Breakfast Cake. Different companies add different amounts of salt to their butter.

Are chessmen butter cookies shortbread? ›

To make a copycat version of Chessmen cookies at home, the recipe is a simple butter cookie cut out in a special shape. A butter cookie is slightly different from shortbread but with a higher ratio of sugar to butter. This allows a butter cookie to hold its shape rather than having a tendency to crumble.

What did shortbread Girl Scout cookies used to be called? ›

Trefoils were also the first Girl Scout Cookie back in 1935, when the Girl Scout Federation of Greater New York raised enough money through the sale of commercially baked cookies to buy it's own die in the shape of a trefoil.

What is shortcake vs shortbread? ›

Shortbread is similar to shortcake but doesn't include baking powder. Lots of rich butter gives shortbread a high fat content, resulting in a fine, crumbly texture. Shortcake and shortbread biscuits are delicious on their own, with fruit and cream, or simply topped with a delicate dusting of sugar.

When making shortbread, what must you not do? ›

Avoid making your shortbread too thick

This is much thicker than a roll-and-slice sugar cookie — or really any other popular type of cookie. If you keep your dough any thicker, you risk the dough coming out of the oven raw. If it's any thinner, the cookie will have a crispy texture with the snap of a graham cracker.

What are the qualities of a good shortbread? ›

Good shortbread is pale, buttery, crunchy, and 'short'. This means it crumbles at every bite, giving that characteristic shortbread texture. It shouldn't be soft or chewy like cookies, and it shouldn't be browned.

Should you soften butter for shortbread cookies? ›

Many shortbread recipes start by having you cream softened butter with sugar, incorporating the dough with what former Serious Eats editor Stella Parks describes as “micro pockets of air.” Because air is a poor conductor of heat, “it helps insulate the dough from the hot baking sheet in the oven, slowing the rate at ...

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