Simple Shortbread: One Recipe, Four Cookies

Christmas cookies are everywhere you look these days. This month, magazines have devoted entire issues to them, bloggers and bakers just wrapped a #cookieweek theme on Twitter and cookbooks such as the brand new Gourmet Cookie Book are inundating us with endless options for sweet, buttery goodness.

Every year there is some new trend, some riff on a classic or old favorite, but it is rare that I am swayed. Sure, I try a few new cookie recipes every holiday season, but one variety that I am eternally devoted to are shortbread.

No matter how busy I am during the weeks leading up to the holidays, I always make time for classic homemade shortbread. This simple combination of only four ingredients – flour, sugar, butter and salt – claims to be the best cookie out there and I tend to agree.

If you are bored with the classic recipe, the good news for you is that there are many variations that you can make on the standard, as this type of cookie lends itself very genially to manipulation.

Here are directions for making four different varieties of cookies using the same dough. All are simple to make and don’t require the extra step of rolling dough and cutting shapes (although that is a fine option and the dough works well for that method too).

Basic Vanilla Shortbread

Recipe by Ina Garten from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Makes about 4 dozen small shortbread. This recipe can be divided into four and a dozen of each variety of cookie made from the suggestions below, or you can make the entire batch into the shortbread of your choosing.

  • 3/4 pound (1 1/2 cups or 3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.
  3. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and bring everything together with your hands. Divide dough into four pieces and flatten slightly. Wrap each piece in plastic and chill OR prepare one of the shortbread cookie recipes below.

Now, you can either roll the dough, cut out shapes and bake them into cookies, or try one (or all) of the four delicious variations below.

One Recipe, Four Types of Cookies

Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread Diamonds

  • 1 ball of shortbread dough (1/4 of the recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
  1. Press one quarter of the cookie dough into a 7×7 square pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Pat down firmly.
  2. Using a small ruler and a sharp knife (as pictured above), cut dough diagonally into strips, and then from top to bottom, making about a dozen diamond-shaped cookies. Chill for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for about 16-20 minutes and slightly golden around the edges. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate on low in the microwave and stir until smooth.
  4. Remove pan from oven and allow pan to cool slightly. Remove shortbread from pan using the parchment and place on a cutting board.
  5. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the shortbread into diamonds using the pre-made lines. Dip into melted chocolate until half-covered and place on a wire rack to set.

Jam Shortbread Thumbprints

  • 1 ball of shortbread dough (1/4 of the recipe above)
  • Jam or jelly of your choosing
  1. Roll shortbread into 1-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with your palm.
  2. Make a small indentation in the top of the cookie using your thumb or finger. Spoon about a 1/4 teaspoon of jam into the hole. Chill for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for about 10-12 minutes and golden on the bottoms.

Russian Tea Cakes

  • 1 ball of shortbread dough (1/4 of the recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  1. Roll shortbread dough into 1/2 inch balls and place on a baking sheet. Chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Bake for 12-16 minutes until slightly golden on the bottom.
  3. Place powdered sugar in a medium-sized bowl and add warm cookies. Toss to coat.
  4. Place on a cooling rack and allow tea cakes to cool.Toss again in powdered sugar and store in a cool dry place.

Lemon-Glazed Shortbread

  • 1 ball of shortbread dough (1/4 of the recipe above)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • Sprinkles or decoration of your choosing
  1. Shape the dough into a log and roll to smooth the edges. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Unwrap the shortbread log and slice into 1/4 inch rounds (or thicker if you prefer) and place onto cookie sheet. Bake about 10-12 minutes and until slightly golden. Cool.
  3. Mix together powdered sugar and lemon juice. Add a few more drops of lemon juice if mixture is not runny enough.
  4. Spoon glaze onto cookies and add decorations, if desired. Allow icing to harden for several hours. Store in an airtight container.

More Variations

This weekend I’ll be hosting my annual holiday cookie swap, one of the most anticipated events of the year; well, for me, anyway! I haven’t decided what I’m making yet, but it could very well be a classic shortbread or one of these livelier adaptations.

  • Dried Fruit: Cherries, cranberries, and other dried fruits add wonderful textures and flavor to shortbread.
  • Almond: Add 1/4 cup powdered almonds and 1 tsp almond extract to the creamed butter.
  • Lemon: Add 2 teaspoons lemon zest and a few drops of lemon extract if desired. Experiment with all types of citrus.
  • Ginger: Substitute brown sugar for the white sugar in basic recipe. To the flour mixture add 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and a pinch of cloves.
  • Chocolate: Add ½ cup cocoa to the flour and salt and proceed with recipe. Dip cooked cookies in dark chocolate for an irresistible double-chocolate cookie.
  • Espresso: Dissolve 2 tablespoons espresso powder in 1 teaspoon hot water. Add to creamed butter and sugar mixture before adding flour.
  • Nuts: Add lightly toasted and chopped hazelnuts, pecans, or (insert your favorite nut variety here) to give a lovely texture and flavor to your shortbread.
  • Herbs: Rosemary is spectacular when paired with lemon, as is lavender, so don’t rule out the spice & herb cabinet when creating your perfect shortbread.

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This post is brought to you by Plan to Eat because cookies aren’t recommended for dinner, no matter who you are. For meal ideas, menu planning and tips on getting dinner on the table, choose Plan to Eat.

Do you have a favorite flavor of shortbread?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. I love shortbread cookies! They’re my favorite!

  2. Loose Early Grey tea also makes wonderful shortbread.

  3. This is SO smart, Aimee! Love it!

  4. What a great way to get some variety – without spending all day in the kitchen! I love shortbread, and those lemon glazed look so good!

  5. My grandmother always made the almond ones, and you’ve inspired me to make some of my own this year!

  6. We always dip our thumbprints in whipped egg white and then roll in chopped nuts before making the indent and adding the jam. It’s messy fun for my kids and those are the first cookies to disappear.

  7. Vanilla. I like the classic flavor.

  8. Danielle M says:

    We have to be dairy-free (and egg- and tree nut/peanut-free) because of allergies. Do you think these would come out okay if I used Earth Balance in place of the butter?

  9. I love this!! The pictures are beautiful, and no one would ever guess that they are all from the same cookie recipe!!

  10. LOVE THIS!!! All the varieties you’ve made with it look great!

  11. I adore shortbread. There are so many versatile things you can do with it. Last year we added candied ginger and orange zest and then dipped one side in white chocolate. They were such a hit that I’ve added them to my regular cookie baking rotation.

  12. I’m not a big shortbread fan, but it’s nice to know that it’s so versatile. It would definitely be a good gift, since they look so nice! I’ve made baskets for people before, and I’ve put mini bundt cakes, a box of homemade chocolate, and some cookies. Snickerdoodles are my favorite!

  13. Love this idea – so easy! Such variety! We were out of eggs this weekend (ack!) and wanting to make cookies for kiddo-decorating. I actually looked at a shortbread recipe, but didn’t know if it would roll and cut into shapes well (we went to the store instead). Now I know!

  14. I love baking from scratch – and with this recipe it is easy enough to do it! I don’t always have the patience to chill and roll out dough… I must have the attention span of a gnat 🙂 These look great – and I love the versatility.

  15. Brilliant! Love shortbread and LOVE all of the variations!

  16. Aimee ~ I just love recipes like this one – especially this time of year; it’s a HUGE time saver!!!

  17. Oh, yeah. We’re SO making these! All four of them 🙂

    Thank you, you cookie monster enabler you!

  18. Thanks for this! All the recipes and variations look awesome!

    Do you think this dough would freeze well? If so, I’m guessing you would put it in to freeze at the “chill” stage?

  19. Fromagette says:

    We’ve been cracking black walnuts around here and my mother-in-law made some amazing shortbread cookies that I’ve been meaning to duplicate for our Christmas treats.

    While we don’t normally make shortbread, my husband makes butter cookies each year with a cookie press so we get a large variety of shapes and flavors from one basic cookie dough. It really is a time saver.

  20. These look amazing, Aimee!

  21. I use Ina’s recipe as well, and it’s a gem. I love the four variations you have here…so colourful and creative. I really, really adore a chocolate dipped shortbread, and this year we’ve expanded on that a little to make a Nutella-shortbread cookie sandwich. Definitely a keeper!

  22. These look fantastic! One of my kids has gone vegan so I’m wondering if I could do a batch with coconut oil (which is solid at room temp like butter but not hydrogenated like shortening) instead. I’m sure it wouldn’t taste as fabulous, but maybe with a bit of flavoring…. It might be a fun experiment anyway. 🙂

  23. Oh my gosh, I love shortbread cookies! I would not be able to resist any of your variations. The thumbprint cookies would be my favorite though.

  24. My regular shortbread recipe is from Chatelaine magazine — it calls for icing sugar rather than granulated sugar. So I am curious about the remark for the ginger variation “substitute brown sugar for the icing sugar.” Which do you use for the basic recipe? My most popular variation is to add chopped Toblerone (or President’s Choice version). Rosemary and pine nut is also a nice savoury variation.

  25. I had no idea there were so many uses. Love this post, Aimee!

  26. Beautiful theme and variations. Any of them would be wonderful for a party or a cookie exchange, and the fact that they’re simple to make is a bonus for this time of year!

  27. Thank you for the inspiration! I love shortbread cookies! Can’t wait to send some as gifts!

  28. I am going to make these today! Do you have a favorite sugar cookie recipe? recipe.com makes me overwhelmed!

  29. What a simple and amazing recipe! I will definitely try this. Will let you know how it goes. thanks!

  30. I make a cookie that is one I started making with my Grandmother MANY years ago and when asked to describe it I was sort of flummoxed but feel more confident today that I said it was like a shortbread cookie rolled into a ball with pecans in the dough…cause that’s almost the same as the dough used here for Russian Tea Cakes. I had just never associated shortbread with a ball form before.

    This is a great recipe with all of the different types that can be made at a time when we can barely find time for one cookie, much less an assortment. Thanks!

  31. I love all the ideas with just one cookie dough! I never thought of all the diff type of cookies that could be made with shortbread dough; I’m definitely going to do a bunch for my holiday baking.

  32. Um Yum! Can’t wait to try some out!
    Might be my evening “thing to do”!
    M.

  33. I think I may try a version with the espresso added and then dipped into the dark chocolate. I think that would be a great combination.

  34. I love this idea! Sooooo simple!

  35. What a lovely post. Four different kinds of cookies, and 1 dough. terrific ideas. will try some for sure,

    Thanks,
    Siri

  36. I love the variety that comes out of a shortbread cookie dough recipe. So cool 🙂 I just baked some yummy almond thumbprint cookies and I love to add some eggwash just to give some shine to the cookies. Happy Holidays Aimee 🙂

  37. I’m trying to make these (first time EVER), but the dough is really crumbly. Is this normal?

  38. Shortbread is so much fun to make. I love your display of it’s versatility. Can I order a dozen of each please 🙂

  39. Oh thank you – I was needing a versatile shortbread recipe !

  40. I don’t know what I could have done wrong but I made this this morning and just dumped them all in the trash. The cookies came out so BITTER. I don’t know if vanilla goes bad or my butter wasn’t fresh enough or what. They truely came out tasting like bitter flour. Even with the raspberry jam in the thumb prints it didn’t cut the nasty taste. For me, I think I will leave the cookie baking to the professionals and I will stick to baking and decorating cakes.

  41. Your cookies look wonderful! I love the one with sprinkles!

    Would love for you to come by and link up at my recipe party!

  42. I absolutely love shortbread. Yours look amazing!

  43. This recipe looks delicious. Can’t wait for an excuse to give them a try since our whole family loves shortbread. Added a link to this recipe in a post I did recently about buttery jam cookies.

  44. I added chai spice black tea leaves to the dough. Fabulous!

  45. Wow, these recipes are amazing. I really like simple but delicious cookies. Thanks for sharing.

  46. Shortbread cookies are my all-time favorite.

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