Butter Shortbread Cookies

Butter Shortbread Cookies | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Last week was my aunt Kristin’s birthday, and she had only one request of me: butter shortbread cookies. She is a woman of very discerning tastes and gave me explicit directions on just how she wanted them baked. They were to be thick, delicate, not too sweet, a light dusting of very fine sugar and above all else, buttery! As some of you may have noticed, my aunt Kristin is one of my pastry muses. She doesn’t bake much herself, but she has a keen sweet tooth and can recognize a great recipe, without ever making it.

The recipe I settled on was from one of my trusted favorites, Tartine. It struck me as simple and classic. I used a smaller pan than they requested so that my shortbread would be to the exact specifications of Kristin’s desired cookie. I ended up making two batches so that I would have plenty to send to her and to keep a few for myself. They aren’t overly sweet so I figured my kids wouldn’t be that interested. Boy was I wrong. My six year old took a bite and said “man, these are good!” Spoken like a true first grader.

The ultimate flavor is the butter so this is a great place to try out one of the European style butters featured in this months Saveur Magazine (page 78).

Makes 24 thick butter shortbread cookies

1 cup + 2 tablespoons (9oz/255g) unsalted butter at room temperature (I used Plugra, but you can use any butter. If it has salt then you will need to decrease the salt in the recipe or cut it out all together. Taste the butter and determine how salty it is.)

1/2 teaspoon (2ml) kosher salt

1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons (9oz/255g) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 2/3 oz/75g) cornstarch

1/3 cups 2 1/2oz/70g) granulated sugar

For the top:

1/4 cup (2oz/55g) superfine sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and prepare a 8×8-inch (those are the top dimensions. The bottom of the dish measures 7×7-inch) glass baking dish with butter and parchment.

Baking Pan Covered with Butter and Parchment Paper | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Sift together the flour and cornstarch, set aside. I sifted them onto a sheet of parchment, but a bowl will do.

Sifting Flour for Shortbread Dough | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Cream the butter until very soft. This may take a couple of minutes if your butter isn’t at room temperature. Add salt and sugar and mix until just combined.

Shortbread Dough | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Add flour and cornstarch, mix on low until a smooth dough forms.

Beating Shortbread Dough | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François
Beating Shortbread Dough | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Put the dough in the prepared baking dish and cover with plastic wrap.

Shortbread Dough Covered With Plastic Wrap | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Press the dough until it evenly covers the baking dish and is nice and smooth.

Shortbread Dough Covered With Plastic Wrap | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Peel off the plastic and bake for until light golden, about 30-38 minutes, depending how think your shortbread is.

Shortbread Dough Covered With Plastic Wrap | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

While the shortbread is baking you can make your superfine sugar if you don’t already have some. Pour some granulated sugar into a food processor and grind it up for about a minute.

Grinding Granulated Sugar In Food Processor | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Once the shortbread comes out of the oven sprinkle the superfine sugar over the top. You want to do it while the cookies are still hot so that some of the sugar will melt slightly and cling to the cookies. Gently tilt the pan so the sugar is even, don’t go too far or the cookies will fall out of the pan. (I learned this the hard way the first time I made shortbread!)

Shortbread Dusted With Sugar | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

When the shortbread is still warm, but not hot cut them into rectangles. If you wait too long and the cookies cool they will become brittle and crack. Let them cool completely before trying to remove them from the pan. The first cookie is nearly impossible to get out without breaking up, this is the one you eat for quality control!

Butter Shortbread Cookies | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

My family and I ate them while they were fresh from the pan and very soft. When I had my father hand deliver the shortbread to Kristin, 8 states away, she let them sit for a couple of days before she even tried one. She likes them after they have firmed up a bit. Wow that takes some serious will power!

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14 thoughts to “Butter Shortbread Cookies”

  1. Hi Amanda,

    I fell in love with the bakery last time I was in San Fran. All of the recipes I’ve tried from the book so far have been great. I’ve been slowly making my way through it. I would highly recommend it to you!

    You will see that my shortbread cookies are MUCH thicker than the ones in the book.

    Thanks, Zoë

  2. I just picked up that book from the library. It looks amazing! What other recipes have you tried from it?

  3. Im always a big fan of cookies they are my downfall haha these ones look extremely delicious when i get some time I will have to try this recipe out and let you know the outcome!

    (also something else the image of your book in the top right corner must have been moved because its not showing up and im assuming you had google ads in your right navigation bar? they arent showing up either so you might want to fix it =) )


  4. hi Zoe
    i just stumbled onto your website while doing a recipe search and may i say how absolutely wonderful it is! all your recipes look delicious and i am really looking forward to making them for me and my husband! i hope you dont mind if i browse around for a while! sarah.xx

  5. Mine are in the oven right now. I did everything the same except added mini chocolate chips. I cant wait till theyre finished baking!

  6. In my mind, a shortbread cookie was a thin, crunchy and buttery cookie. The other day I was at a bakery that had some that looked just like this, thick and dense, but quite soft. I’ve been searching the internet to find a recipe to replicate those I recently discovered, but all the recipes are basically the same. Is the only difference baking a thicker bar as opposed to a thin bar? Or is the cornstarch (which I haven’t seen in many recipes) the secret ingredient? I can only remember ever having traditional Scottish shortbread from my mom’s Betty Crocker cookbook :p

    1. Hi Shannon,

      A shortbread cookie can be both thick or thin. Some recipes have cornstarch to reduce the gluten in the flour, which can make the cookie tougher. You can roll the dough out as thin as you like to achieve the kind of cookie you want, although you have to watch the baking time for thinner cookies.

      Thanks, Zoë

  7. Zoe,
    Can this recipe be used with cookie cutters? I love the taste of buttery shortbread cookies and I would like to make some in certain shapes (like the shape of Michigan for “All States Day” where we live. Thanks, Karen

  8. I had a recipe a long time ago for scottish shortbread…it also had some cornstarch in it….I am making these for my grandson’s 9th birthday….as he said he wanted butter cookies…..I think he will love this shortbread cookie….thank you Zoe….diane

  9. Hello;
    I was wondering; do I put butter in the bottom of the dish, and then the parchment? Or the other way around?
    I had never seen this kind kind of instruction before, and didn’t want to me this up.

    This looks perfect for me; as I no longer have the energy to roll out and cut shortbread into cookies.
    Can I freeze them after they are baked?
    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

    1. Hi Jennifer, yes! You butter the dish, then place parchment on top of the butter and flip the parchment over so you have buttered parchment, making it super easy to get out of the pan! Zoë says these freeze well. Happy baking!

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