Shortbread cookies are a traditional Scottish treat with a rich, buttery flavor and a soft, crumbly texture. This delectable pastry has a long history dating back to 12th century Scotland and was considered a delicacy reserved only for special occasions. The key to making a delicious shortbread cookie lies in the amount of butter used, which gives the cookie its signature crumbly texture. In those days, “short” meant “crumbly,” and it referred to the high proportion of fat to flour in the recipe.
To create an authentic shortbread cookie, this recipe only calls for five ingredients. The first ingredient is unsalted butter, which is preferred for its perfect balance of moisture and fat. Two sticks of butter are enough to hold the cookie dough together without causing it to lose shape in the oven. The butter should be cold to ensure the dough does not become too soft.
The second ingredient is all-purpose flour, which can be either bleached or unbleached. The third ingredient is cornstarch, which helps keep the cookies together while still remaining soft. Alternatively, rice flour can be used in place of cornstarch.
The fourth ingredient is superfine sugar, also known as caster sugar. This type of sugar has smaller crystals than granulated sugar, which can make the cookies too coarse. If caster sugar is not available, granulated sugar can be processed in a food processor for about 30 seconds to create a finer texture. Finally, a small amount of kosher salt is added to enhance the flavor of the cookies.
These shortbread cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. For longer storage, they can be frozen for up to three months. Be sure to label and date the container and separate layers of cookies with freezer paper or wax paper to prevent them from sticking together.
If you’re in the mood for something more indulgent, try using this shortbread recipe to create a pie crust. Simply mix two cups of crushed shortbread cookies with half a cup of melted butter and a quarter cup of granulated sugar. Press the mixture into an eight-inch pie plate, and you have a delectable crust that can be filled with your favorite sweet filling.
- 1 cup (2 sticks / 227g) unsalted butter, cold
- 1 ¾ cup (219 g) all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup (32 g) cornstarch
- ⅔ cup (150 g) superfine sugar, or caster sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
To start, preheat your oven to 350°F and line an 8×8-inch baking dish with parchment paper. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine 1 ¾ cups of all-purpose flour, ¼ cup of cornstarch, ⅔ cup of superfine sugar (also known as caster sugar), and ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt at low speed for about 5 seconds.
Next, cut 1 cup (2 sticks or 227g) of cold unsalted butter into ½-inch cubes. Toss the butter cubes with ¼ cup of the flour mixture in a small bowl, then add the floured butter (along with any extra flour) to the stand mixer. Mix on low speed for about 4 minutes, until the dough is light yellow in color and small crumbs.
Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and use your hands to toss the mixture, rubbing any remaining butter bits into the flour mixture. Press the shortbread mixture firmly and evenly into the lined pan, smoothing it with the back of a spoon.
Bake the shortbread for 35-40 minutes, or until the top and edges are lightly golden brown. After baking, let the shortbread cool for about 5 minutes (leaving the oven on for additional baking). Once cooled, press a piece of parchment paper onto the shortbread and cover it, gently holding it down with the palm of your hand.
Carefully invert the shortbread upside down onto your hand and lift the pan off. Lay the shortbread flat on a countertop or cutting board, and use a knife to slice it in half. Then, slice it into fourths the other direction (giving you 8 rectangular cookies). Pierce a few holes on the top of each section with a toothpick, wooden skewer, or fork.
Put the shortbread (still on parchment paper) onto a baking sheet and bake for an additional 8 minutes to firm up. Once done, remove from the oven and let cool before serving.
Enjoy your homemade shortbread cookies with a cup of tea or coffee, or package them up as a sweet gift for someone special. With their buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture, they’re sure to be a hit!