My mother always made the best shortbread when I was a kid. I took it for granted that shortbread would be around every Christmas, but my piano teacher didn’t. He was British, just like my mum, and he waited every year for my mother’s shortbread, which I would present to him as a holiday thank you, packaged up in a cardboard box or Christmas tin. I think it wasn’t until he actually said something about how much he loved my mother’s shortbread that I started paying attention to this cookie that had no chocolate in it.
Amazingly, shortbread has only three ingredients (sometimes four, but by definition 3). Sugar. Butter. Flour. Traditionally, these three ingredients were weighed out with a very simple ratio – 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts oat flour. More recently, home cooks use a 1:1 ratio of butter and all-purpose flour (1 stick of butter to 1 cup of flour), making the 3 ingredient ratio 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, 2 parts flour. Both ratios work, but the outcomes are a little different. The 1:2:3 ratio gives you a cookie that is more dense. The 1:2:2 butter:flour ratio gives you a cookie that is more tender.
Most recipes will tell you NOT to cream the butter and sugar too much. A shortbread, after all, is supposed to be a dense cookie, so there’s no reason to incorporate air into the butter. Not creaming the butter certainly is faster and easier if you’re making the cookies by hand so it’s easy to opt for that version and just make sure the two ingredients are well blended. You can, however, cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes if you like a lighter more crumbly shortbread. The lesson here is that you can’t really do it wrong – you can just say you like shortbread “this way” better! ?
What is important when making shortbread is to get the best butter you can and have that butter at the right temperature. Not all butters are created equal. European cultured butter has a little more flavor than your average butter and when you only have three ingredients in a recipe, it is important to get the best tasting ingredients you can. If you can find it, go for the European cultured butter. Then… temperature. Fighting with butter straight out of the refrigerator will just make you angry and waste your time. Be sure to take the butter out of the fridge at least 30 minutes to an hour ahead of time (assuming you are not in a hot climate). The butter should be soft enough to hold a fingerprint, but not so soft that your finger goes straight through.
As with all things from childhood, you miss them once you are out of the house, on your own and depending on only yourself to recreate the memories. I’ve been playing around with different flavors of shortbread – chocolate (because… chocolate), orange or lemon zest (for a springy zing), and rosemary (for a savory-sweet biscuit). I’ve also tried making the traditional oat flour shortbread and a gluten-free almond-lemon shortbread. It’s nice to have some variety in life, but I have to admit that I gravitate to the plain ol’ plain version. I’ve been out of the house for many MANY years now, of course, and even though I can make all these different shortbreads, there’s still something about my mother’s shortbread that always beats my own. Guess maybe it’s that fourth ingredient – love.
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I love shortbread and this is a good recipe. I used the food processor method. The first time I used high quality butter that I had on hand and didn’t put chips in and it was very good. The second time, I bought cultured butter and put the chocolate chips in and it was even better. The hint to use the parchment paper is good. It’s nice to lift the whole batch out of the pan so neatly.
Did you use European Butter in this recipe?
I like to use cultured butter for as many items as possible, but especially for shortbread where the flavor of the cookie really depends on the flavor of your butter. So, yes, European butter is perfect for this.
I’m not very computer savvy but was looking for your shortbread video and recipe that you made by hand.
I made it last year and was so delicious.
Hi Carol. I believe I did that video on Facebook Live. It should be on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bluejeanchef
There goes my diet. So good.
You mentioned you made an orange shortbread. What did you use for the orange flavor and how much?
Hi Joyce, I added 4 teaspoons of orange zest to the dough. You can see the full instructions under the “Plain or Flavored Shortbread” tab on the recipe card
My father was born and raised in Scotland and when he came to the US he brought a recipe for shortbread. As in yours there was flour butter and sugar but the recipe also called for rice flour. He made it every Christmas.
Could almond flour be equally substituted for the oat flour?
Hi Barb. I haven’t tried a 100% replacement of almond flour in the shortbread, but I think it would work. Give it a try and let me know.
Have you ever tried using this as a bottom pie crust? If so, what ratio do you think works best?
Hi Sharon. I haven’t used this as a bottom pie crust, but I think the ratio would be the same. Give it a whirl and let me know!
Should the recipe call for one and one half of flour rather than two and one half for the shortbread cookies?
Hi Irma. The 12 ounces in the recipe is a weight of flour, which is about 2½ cups in volume. I prefer to weigh the ingredients, but if you are using a volume measurement, it’s about 2½ cups.
I make these shortbread cookies every year. Everyone loves them and you can add so many things to the dough,
My granddaughter likes to put sprinkles on top. Thank you Meredith for such great recipes.
I was wondering if the butter is salted or unsalted? My mom used 1 lb. unsalted butter, 1 cup flour and almost 1 cup sugar. My altimeter favorite!!! Make them all year. Add the mini chips sometime’s, Rosemary, orange zest and lemon zest. She did line pans with parchment paper. I had a short bead pan. ( Had). But round cake pans work well for the wedges and 8×8 pans for the square cookies… No matter the shape they taste wonderful!!!
Shortbread cookies are my all time favorite. I make them every year for the holidays, but after some of them are cooled and cut, I dip part of the cookie into melted chocolate then immediately dip that into some walnuts. Makes for a nice presentation and is soooo good!
I made my shortbread today! I omitted the chocolate and added some lemon extract. It came out delicious and buttery . My husband loved it and I will make it again and again
Hello made the Chocolate Chunk Shortbread it’s fabulous. Not too sweet either. Thank you.
Just wondered if a 9-inch square glass cake would work the same as the metal pan?
You can bake the shortbread in a glass dish.
Can you use powdered sugar instead and if so how does the measurement change?
You need to use granulated sugar and not powdered sugar for this recipe.