These tasty, melt-in-your-mouth butter shortbread cookies are based on my grandmother’s shortbread cookies recipe. I’ve used grass-fed butter from Ireland and oat flour to give these cookies a little Irish flair.
My daughter came home from school yesterday asking me if leprechauns were real and “what do snakes have to do with St. Patrick’s Day anyway?” I smiled. I remember how fun it was to look for four-leaf clovers and wonder about tiny men in green suits with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
I asked her what she thought about leprechauns. “Real,” she said. Her friend saw one named Lilly, the same as her name. So of course, they are real and so is that pot of gold. Then I told her I made a shortbread cookies recipe and formed some of the dough into little round buttons for her. She squealed with excitement – the little button shortbread cookies resembled gold coins.
Tangent: Pirate O’s is absolutely magical at Christmastime. Displays fill the store with every kind of imported chocolate and candy you can imagine in addition to their fabulous cheese section. It’s a small store with narrow aisles and high price tags. I walked out with a pound of Irish butter, a bottle of sparkling Voss from Norway (which is still in my fridge), English clotted cream (my hubby just opened it over the weekend), balsamic vinegar from Italy, and locally made truffles. A trip around the world in 15 minutes.
I came home and put the Irish butter in my freezer to save for shortbread and to hide from those who would use it on their toast before I could use it. Ha! Sadly I never made the shortbread cookies recipe for Christmas. And I didn’t make it for New Year’s or Valentine’s Day either. Here it is March, and I’m finally getting around to it! Worth the wait, I was told. Definitely worth the wait.
The Best Shortbread Cookies Recipe of All: My Grandmother’s
My grandmother and I talk several times a week. Back in December, after I bought the butter, I called and we talked about shortbread. She cut out a shortbread cookies recipe from the newspaper years and years ago. She read it to me over the phone and I jotted it down on a scrap of paper. We’ve discussed shortbread a lot over the years. Grandma gave me her best tips. When she tells me her cooking secrets, I pay attention!
Why I Use Kerrygold Butter in Shortbread Cookies
Kerrygold butter comes from grass-fed cows and has a higher fat content. That also makes for the perfect shortbread because less water in the butter means more tender cookies. The flavor of the butter is also superior. If you don’t want to splurge on Kerrygold (or if you can’t find it on sale), spring for some Land o’ Lakes, or any European-style butter. Go all out for the shortbread – it’s worth the splurge!
Tips For Better Shortbread Cookies
The goal is tender, melt-in-your-mouth crumbly, sandy textured cookies with intense butter flavor. Follow these tips and you’ll succeed for sure!
- Butter matters: Above I mentioned the importance of the kind of butter used in making any shortbread cookies recipe. Butter = flavor.
- Sweet, but not too sweet: Shortbread should be lightly sweet, but not overpoweringly so. I use confectioner’s sugar because it blends more easily, but superfine sugar also works.
- Include cornstarch or rice flour in addition to all-purpose flour: Texture is everything! Shortbread cookies should be light and crisp, not at all chewy. And shortbread should practically crumble and melt in your mouth. My grandmother’s shortbread cookies recipe calls for cornstarch in addition to the all-purpose flour. I’ve seen some recipes call for using cake flour, which is extra fine…and also contains cornstarch. The use of another flour or starch helps the texture stay sandy and crisp. This is because the gluten structure in flour, which is great for bread, can make cookies tough.
- Don’t over-beat or over-mix: Know what else makes shortbread cookies tough? Over mixing. It’s important not to beat the butter and confectioner’s sugar until light and fluffy as you would with a cake or other type of cookie. If the butter is over-whipped, air pockets will form and the cookie texture won’t be uniform. It will puff in areas and not bake evenly. Also, I stir the flour in by hand rather than using a mixer. It should just come together. Over-mixing will make the dough and the baked cookies tough.
- Bake shortbread on brown paper or parchment: The brown paper or parchment can help to absorb any excess butter so the cookies don’t feel greasy, but it also ensures even baking. I don’t recommend baking on silicone mats because there’s too much of a buffer between the heat of the cookie sheet and the dough. The goal is nicely golden tops with a browned underside.
- Always dock the dough: making small, evenly spaced holes in the dough is another way to ensure the cookies bake evenly and keep a uniform texture. The holes allow air to escape, which also prevents the dough from puffing up or spreading too much.
- Bake at a lower temperature for longer: The longer, lower baking helps keep the shortbread from spreading and keeps them uniform in color and doneness.
- You can make almost any shape: The traditional shapes are wedges, squares, or circles. But I also like making diamonds by cutting the dough on a bias using a ruler and a pizza cutter. Shortbread dough can be made into any shape using cookie cutters. Just be aware that intricate designs can be a little trickier and the edges may not come out as clean after baking. Another fun thing to try: cookie stamps. Press a mold onto the cookies to give them a fun pattern or design, or use small letters to create words or names.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment a little: this shortbread cookies recipe calls for oat flour in addition to the cornstarch. Oats do not contain gluten (unless there is contamination from other grains) and when finely ground, it helps keep the cookies tender and lends a nice nutty flavor. Don’t be afraid to experiment with adding part buckwheat flour, rice flour, millet, or even cornflour (finely ground cornmeal). As long as you don’t over-mix, the cookies will have a pleasing texture.
- Spice things up: My recipe is for plain, buttery shortbread cookies, but I love adding herbs, spices, and/or citrus zest to change up the flavor. Lemon zest and lavender buds mixed into the butter and sugar is delightful any time of year, but especially in the summer. For wintery cookies, add orange zest and ground spices like ginger, cloves, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, or nutmeg. In the spring, I love the addition of thyme or rosemary.
- Other add-ins: once you master the main shortbread cookies recipe, don’t be afraid to add other things beyond the herbs and spices. Adding in chopped dried fruit, toffee, chocolate, or nuts can yield a plethora of different flavors and textures for any occasion.
How To Store Shortbread Cookies
Shortbread cookies can be bought in tins. That’s not just for show! Airtight containers are important so cookies don’t become stale or develop off flavors. They do not need to be frozen or refrigerated to protect their flavor and texture.
The longer the shortbread sits (in a tin or other container), the better they get. I’ve kept shortbread as long as 6+ months and they were delicious right up to the end.
The unbaked dough should be wrapped tightly and frozen if you aren’t planning on baking the cookies right away. And easy storage method is forming the dough in a log, wrapping tightly, then slicing the dough off in 1/4-inch rounds for baking.
Enjoy the recipe! And please leave a comment letting me know if you made the recipe and how it turned out for you!
- 8 ounces unsalted Irish butter, such as Kerrygold at room temperature
- ½ cup confectioner's sugar
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ cup oat flour
- 2½ Tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 325* F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Cream butter for 30 seconds in a mixer until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and cream until smooth. (Don’t whip the butter until fluffy, just until combined.) Whisk the dry ingredients together. Add half to the creamed mixture and mix on low just until combined. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low just until the dough comes together. There will still be some unincorporated dry ingredients. Remove bowl from mixer. Scrape down sides and use a silicone or rubber spatula to gently mix in the remaining dry ingredients.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured, cool surface or a piece of parchment lightly dusted with flour. (I prefer the parchment, as you can bake the cookies on the same piece and the dough doesn’t stick if you need to transfer it.) Knead the dough a few times and press lightly into a disk. (You can chill it at this point, if desired.) Roll the dough out, using a tiny bit of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin, to ¼″ thick. Cut into the desired shapes and transfer to the baking sheets. Dock the top of the cookies with a fork, toothpick, or bamboo skewer.
- Alternatively, divide the dough into 4 pieces and shape into flat rounds. Use a sharp knife to cut into wedges
- Dock the wedges evenly fork, toothpick or skewer.
- Bake the cookies one cookie sheet at a time, rotating it halfway through baking time. For the 2″ circles bake for 15 minutes, or until barely brown. For the larger circles cut into wedges, bake for 20-25 minutes. This recipe yielded 1 circle with 8 wedges and about 4 dozen 2″ rounds.