There is no better cookie than shortbread. Fight me.
From make, to bake, to take no other cookie beats shortbread. It is the three ingredient wonder that makes you look like you know what you are doing. They work for every holiday, as well as appreciation gifts, and are easy to make gluten free (although they are never sugar free or fat free…sorry).
The base recipe is 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, 3 parts flour. So if you are going for a couple dozen (depending on size), here is what you might use:
1/2 cup sugar (bakers sugar is best, but use what you got)
1 cup SALTED butter (room temperature– 65F-69F).
2 cups flour
Cream the butter and sugar, mix in any flavorings, add the flour and mix until it is dough. Refrigerate or freeze for an hour and bake at 375F for about 10-12 minutes.
Wham! Yep, that’s it. From there, you have endless options and ways to fiddle, but you’ll almost always maintain that ratio of 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, 3 parts flour.
I assume you have questions.
Why salted butter?
Oh hell yeah. You’ll notice I did not add salt. For one, I wanted to be cool and say that you can make something delicious with three ingredients. Just let me have this moment.
But you can add salt. If you use unsalted butter you’ll want to add 3/4 of a teaspoon. And if you like salty cookies, add fancy salt on top of the cookie before you bake it.
Seriously, give salted butter a try. I know it isn’t canon. I just really like the flavor. Check out Alison Roman’s Salted Butter and Chocolate Chunk Shortbread for a mind-blowing shortbread experience.
Why is your room temperature so specific?
Butter plays differently at different temperatures. Cold butter yields flakiness, which is why you use cold butter for pie crust and biscuits. For cookies, the goal is crumbliness. Room temperature butter is usually about 71F, but I live in an area that can reach triple digit temperatures in the summer. Plus I find that butter warms as you work it. I like the results best if I start at slightly cooler than room temperature. If your butter gets warmer, you will likely see a little more spread in the final cookie, but by all means bake them and eat them gleefully.
Why refrigerate or freeze?
What I like about this recipe is that the cookies get better the more the dough has time to fully integrate. Plus, it gives you options. I’ve made the dough on a weekend and baked up half a dozen in my toaster oven during the week for dessert. The dough will stay safe wrapped in parchment and cling wrap for a week in the fridge, and up to a month in the freezer.
In truth, we should start making nearly all our cookies this way. There is no need to buy cookie dough from the store when you can make it exactly how you want it and have it ready at a moment’s notice.
What size should I make the cookies?
I’ve found that a tablespoon makes a really nice sized cookie. It bakes quickly and balances the richness. Depending on your customization, some cookies might spread, but in general, shortbread holds shape really well. Roll them into balls to get a half moon shape, or keep them in the same shape the scooper makes for a slightly flatter result.
Alternatively, roll the dough into a log before it is refrigerated and slice-and-bake. NOTE: For a really pretty finish brush the logs with a beaten egg and coat them in demerara or sanding sugar before slicing.
If you want to roll them out to cut into shapes, be gentle. Pat them into a flat disk and refrigerate. Then roll the dough out as lightly as possible.
How can I customize?
Nearly any way you see fit. Add a couple teaspoons of vanilla or almond extract. Add a tablespoon of citrus zest; a tablespoon of lavender or rosemary. A cup of chopped walnuts or pecans make a tasty cookie. You can also play around with the flour, substituting almond flour to make the cookies gluten free. Or replace about 1/3 of a cup of flour with cocoa powder to make chocolate shortbread. And 2 teaspoons of cornstarch in the flour can yield a tender/crisp texture that is amazing.
One key thing is to look up at least one recipe when your are planning a substitution. Substitutions might call for slight ratio changes as well. For example, when I use almond flour I cut back on the butter by 4 tablespoon (using the ratio measurements I mentioned above). Almond flour has a bit of fat in it and is more moist than normal flour. I get a lot of spread with that cookie if I put in too much butter. Do I still devour them? Yes, yes I do.
I also prefer shortbread for decorated holiday cookies, precisely because they hold shape better than sugar cookies. A simple icing of lemon or orange juice and powdered sugar mixed with seasonally appropriate colors allows you to pipe or flood beautiful cookies like a champ.
And now for the best part!
Here’s the real secret. Kids don’t really like shortbread as much as adults do. My son will even pass up shortbreads with chocolate chip. It’s an adult cookie. It’s a subtle cookie. That means when I bake them, I don’t have to hide them. And that makes mommy a smart cookie.