Here’s the Secret to Light, Buttery Shortbread

Updated: Jan. 10, 2022

For the best shortbread, it's all about simplicity in ingredients and closely following each step. These instructions make it easy!

No one knows how to make the absolute best shortbread quite like the Scottish. They originated this treat centuries ago (it was a favorite of Mary, Queen of Scots). But what is the secret to getting that signature texture and flavor?

Quite simply: You let the dough dry out. Back in Mary’s time, bakers would let the dough rest in a warm oven. This dried out the dough a bit before it was baked at the proper temperature. See bakers back then found that by letting the dough dry out and rest, that the shortbread became lighter and sweeter.

How? Well, as the dough rests—be it in the ovens or yore or inside your refrigerator today—water evaporates from the dough (this water comes from the butter). Less water in the dough means that the sugar is more concentrated. And with only a few ingredients in traditional shortbread recipes, you want those flavors to stand out.

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How to Make Shortbread Cookies

Scottish Shortbread cookiesTaste of Home

The absolute best shortbread cookie recipe—it’s contest-winning!—requires just three ingredients:

  • 2 cups salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 4 to 4-/12 cups flour

Step 1: Make a Simple Dough

To make this shortbread recipe, you can break out your hand or stand mixer to make quick work of the prep. However, a wooden spoon and your favorite mixing bowl will do just fine—and it’s definitely traditional. Start by creaming together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. For a simple recipe like this that doesn’t call for additional flavorings or salt, be sure to use salted butter to bump up the flavor. And use the best butter you can—this is our favorite.

After you’ve creamed your butter and sugar, add in 3-3/4 cups of flour and mix until combined. Then turn the dough out onto a floured surface and add in the remaining flour until you have a soft dough.

Step 2: Shape the Shortbread Cookies

Lightly flour a work surface, and roll out the dough until it’s about a half inch thick. Cut into 3×1-inch strips. You can use a knife, a pizza cutter or a bench scraper to do this. Place about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and prick with a fork to get that signature Scottish shortbread cookie design.

Step 3: The Secret to the Absolute Best Shortbread

After shaping the cookies, don’t rush to the oven! Instead, chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so (overnight is OK, too). A short stay in the fridge will firm up the cookies and solidify the butter. This will help keep them from spreading too much. Also, it helps concentrate those flavors for your best ever shortbread.

Step 4: Bake

Bake in a 325ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the edges are lightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

The result should be a nice, tender shortbread cookie. These cookies are good on their own, with a cup of coffee or, if you want to go the traditional route, a cup of tea.

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