Traditional Buttery Shortbread Cookies

Once upon a time, I was in high school. I know–crazy! Can you believe it? My cousin June had just visited Scotland and was stopping by Spain to stay with us for a few days, and she brought with her Scottish Shortbread. It was in a beautiful tin with a tartan pattern on it. It was my first experience with shortbread: it started off with a crunch, and then melted in your mouth in all its buttery glory. I must learn how to make this stuff, I thought, and I couldn’t have been happier when Betty Crocker told me that I only needed 3 ingredients: butter, flour, and sugar.

Now this ‘traditional’ shortbread recipe with its 3 humble ingredients is the one I grew up with, so to speak. However, since my days as an innocent and bewildered youth, I’ve seen many other recipes for shortbread out there, and they include ingredients like powdered sugar and cornstarch. In order to delve into this baking mystery and conduct a thorough comparative analysis, I made a batch using this new-fangled variation of cornstarch and powdered sugar a few days after this first batch. Cookies were tested side by side. Clear consensus: the oldie is the goodie.


(makes about 32 cookies)

4 cups flour

2 cups butter, softened (4 sticks, or 1 lb.)

1 cup sugar

Optional: 1 package tiramisu mascarpone (mascarpone cheese mixed with coffee and sugar)

Do you ever remember to soften your butter? Because I don’t.

These 4 sticks softened on top of the stove, which was hot from the Buttery Beer Bread baking within the oven.

And on that note, do you ever remember to correct your white balance?

Apparently I didn’t, so get ready for a slew of bluish-greenish underexposed pictures. Just pretend I’m the Little Mermaid doing an under-the-sea baking lesson, and everything will feel much more natural.

Now: dump that butter into a large mixing bowl.

Add the sugar . . .

Oooh, it’s blue! Yes, the Color Balance Monster struck again when I wasn’t looking.

Keep thinking Little Mermaid!

Now cream the butter and sugar together.

Mix in the flour.

This won’t take long, just about a minute.

Grab the dough, plop it down on a counter, and work it with your hands until it’s well mixed. Now it’s all been easy so far, but working this dough will take the hand muscles of a champion.

See how the dough is kind of ‘cracking’? It took a lot of kneading and massaging to get it past this stage. Good luck! Take a breather if you need. It also helps to sing that song–you know the one. “What would I give if I could live out of these waters . . . what would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand . . . but up on land, I understand that they don’t reprimand their daughters . . . bright young women, sick of swimmin’, ready to staaaaaaaaand . . .”

C’mon, really belt it!

Yes, I know all the words to that song, and I would bet my buttons that some of you do too! ‘Fess up–didn’t you want to be Ariel, perched on a rock with a wave crashing behind you? No? You were more into quantum physics and memorizing the Constitution? You wanted to be an astronaut and your role model was Mother Theresa?

Well. Ehem. Okay.

But let’s not get caught up in an Ariel vs. Mother Theresa debate now–we’re here to bake!

So now! Roll the dough out with a rolling pin or smush out with your hands into about 1/2 inch thickness.

Cut out some cookie shapes.

Some of the cookies ended up waaaaay too thick:

So I simply schmooshed them down with my palm.

It’s so handy to have hands sometimes.

Keep rolling out the dough and cutting out cookies until all the dough has been used.

Then, take a brief pause to sing Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria.’ Or Sebastian’s ‘Under the Sea’ if we want to stay in keeping with our theme here.  ” . . . each little crab here knows how to jam here, that’s why it’s hotter under the water . . . “

Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet.

Optional: you can prick the cookies all over with the tines of a fork if you feel like making a pretty design.

Bake the little beauties at 350 for 20 minutes, until they’re getting a little golden (but barely so!).

Immediately remove them from the sheet and place them on a cooling rack.

As you can see, I made 1 batch of larger, fork-pricked cookies, and 1 batch of smaller unpricked cookies. The larger, thicker cookies were far superior–they retained some softness to them that just blew the littler guys away.

Oops! I spotted an imperfect one. Call in the marines!

It must be consumed immediately. If you’re feeling up for absolute decadence, grab a container of tiramisu mascarpone:

Slather a cookie with the contents, and die a happy person.

At a ripe old age, I mean! Don’t go dyin’ now!

Because there are cookies to be eaten.

Cookies to be stacked.

Cookies to be gazed upon.

My absolute favorite time to eat this cookies is in the morning. Preferrably, a Saturday morning in this chair:

With a Bible and a hot cup of coffee.

When the weather outside looks like this:

I can think of no better thing to do.

More sweet treats tomorrow, folks! I’ve got to get this baking impulse outta my system, and there’s no time like the present to rain down the recipes on you. Better color balance tomorrow, I promise!

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25 Responses to Traditional Buttery Shortbread Cookies

  1. I have zero self-restraint around shortbread. Zero. It’s one of the most underrated cookies EVER! Even Walker’s isn’t bad in a pinch, but making your own is the best. LOVE Little Mermaid, too :) My friends and I used to fight over who got to be named “Ariel” when we would play in the YMCA pool on the weekends :) Good trip down memory lane!!

  2. alongtheohio says:

    Loved the little mermaid reference! haha. When Sarah, Jenn, and I were little…we would play “mermaids” in our uncle’s swimming pool. Sarah was always Ariel b/c she had the hair :) Good times. And yummmmmy cookies!

  3. I don’t really like sweets (can we still be pals?) but I have to say, I’m a total SUCKER for shortbread. I’d never seen them frosted with mascarpone before…buttery goodness!

  4. Yummy. Both my dad and my “second” dad (FIL) love shortbread. So I may have to try these out. :-) How very spanish of you to still be eating cookies for breakfast! :-)

  5. Wendi says:

    Jenna, my only shortbread exposure was to Keebler’s Pecan Sandies. They didn’t make the best impression. Maybe a homemade version is what I need.

    • Jenna says:

      Yikes! Pecan sandies? Hmm, I’m not sure how similar that is to real shortbread. You must try a homemade version–or even a storebought version like Walker’s. Panera also has a shortbread cookie that I adore, and I get it every time I’m there.

  6. Sarah R says:

    I looove shortbread…and The Little Mermaid. As a matter of fact, I have a video of us belting out the song at karaoke. ;-)

  7. Leashieloo says:

    I’m in love with shortbread, but I haven’t had any in forever! Walkers is what I usually nosh on, especially with coffee!

  8. Brandie says:

    Oh boy. I do love Scottish shortbread. And this recipe is nice because there aren’t any crazy ingredients. Perfect!!

  9. Rox says:

    Oh Yummy!!! I love this!

  10. Twinky says:

    Is it possible that the second batch of smaller ones were “tougher” because the dough was reworked, having had to recombine all the stray bits and pieces from the first cutting? I know that in pastry work, the less you “handle” the dough or knead it, the more tender it is… just askin’!!

    • Jenna says:

      Great question! I have no idea, but it sounds likely. I just thought it was because the first batch was larger, but maybe the reworking of the dough did play a part.
      Mom: please conduct scientific testing and report back to me in 24 hours.

      • Twinky says:

        Hmmmm…. 24 hours….. can I/should I/ would I/ will I/ do it????? Better check the butter supply!

        BTW, yesterday I made some killer “brownies”, using 2 small eggs instead of large that the package called for (they were all I had), spreading the batter in a jelly roll pan (so it was decidedly thinner) and heaping on some goodies: white chips, chocolate chips, chopped pecans, and coconut that was finer than usual. I pressed the goodies into the batter (which I could no longer see), and baked for the requisite 25ish minutes at 350º. QUITE nice!! In fact, I think I hear them calling my name… AGAIN!

      • Twinky says:

        OK, here is the full report 26 hours later:

        I left the butter out all night so it was fully soften naturally
        I stirred the flour to lighten it before spooning gently into the measuring cup and scraped it off level (a technique used in good cake baking), and I believe the result was a slightly “moister” (read, not so floury/dry) dough that held together well and was easy to mush and repair around the edges.
        The results are *munch-munch* quite *munch* delectably tender *munch-munch-munch*, warm and *munch* tasty. I will have to *munch* do further testing when they *munch* are fully cooled off.
        I did re-mush the few scraps to see if additional handling makes for a tougher cookie, but those 2 are in the oven with the remainder of the “handled once” batch. I shall return with the concluding remarks in a while!

      • Jenna says:

        Wow Mom! I had no idea you took my directives that seriously. It gives me a sense of great power . . . (evil laugh) . . . I await your concluding remarks!

      • Twinky says:

        Concluding remark #1: Don’t let it go to your head!

        Concluding remark #2: 2 days later they are still quite delicious and tender.

        Concluding remark #3: Since I barely worked the dough with my hands because it was already so maleable and tender, i did not notice any appreciable difference between the remushed trimmings cookies and the mushed only once cookies. Being gentle with how the flour goes into the measuring cup may be the trick to not over-flouring the dough.

      • Jenna says:

        Thanks for the tip Mom–I’ll go slow with the flour next time so that I don’t end up putting in too much. =) Can I just say that I can’t wait until the next time you cook for me? I haven’t had good ole Mom-cooking in what feels like for-e-ver.

  11. surlykitchen says:

    yum, these look amazing. i have been wanting to make a shortbread cookie for awhile. i can’t wait to try these

  12. Christy says:

    Shortbread cookies from Atlanta Bread were my downfall in college. They are the reason I had to drop 15 pounds for my wedding. Well, them and french fries…

  13. Kimby says:

    Tiramisu mascarpone, short bread, a Bible and coffee??? Aaahhhhhh… Sounds wonderful. No, make that heavenly!!! I also liked your description of the tin — brought back memories from a trip I made that’a’way many years ago. Thanks!

  14. Veronica says:

    Shortbread isn’t my favorite, but I can certainly appreciate that buttery melt-in-your mouth thing that happens when you eat it! Yours looks great. Glad to know that the older recipes are still used and valued. :)

  15. Eleanor says:

    wow yum, I’m hungry again

  16. Joanne says:

    I think I need to serenade my kitchen with Little Mermaid tunes next time I bake. I am now thoroughly convinced that it truly makes the experience.

    Shortbread covered in mascarpone…now we’re talking. How do you come up with these things?

    • Hi Joanne! this isn’t Jenna, but her little sister. She comes up with these things because she is a sheer genius!! she always has. except maybe the fated “garden surprise” of our youth. heh . probably was my fault, anyway. so ignore any comments she may make of finding things by accident and such… none of that. :) just pure, delicious, sugary genius.

  17. Tina says:

    Wow your shortbread look very professional. It must taste better than the Walker’s cookie. I am going to try out the recipe with my new purchased

    Cookie mould

    Thanks for sharing the instructions. This is the first time I seen people have shortbread with marcapone cheese

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