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The secret to perfect 3 ingredient shortbread cookies is the shortbread ratio of sugar, butter, and flour. This complete guide will walk you through how to make easy shortbread cookies the traditional way and provide tons of suggestions on adding your own flavors!
I’m so excited to bring you a post about how to make shortbread cookies. This shortbread ratio is one I’ve been using frequently for a while now. When I was pregnant I needed a quick cure for my sweet tooth, and now with my baby on the move, I definitely need an easy and quick way to a simple, satisfying cookie!
Why Are they Called Shortbread?
3 ingredient shortbread cookies are actually a traditional cookie that originated somewhere between the 12th and 16th century (the origin is debated). The shortbread cookie we’re used to eating was thought to be brought over by early american settlers, strongly resembling British teacakes and Scottish shortbread.
Shortbread gets its name from one of the essential three ingredients: butter. So isn’t a butter cookie is just another name for a shortbread?
Actually, no! The short in ‘shortbread’ is from the use of shortening, or fat, to make them. While you and I think of Crisco, shortening didn’t always refer to a vegetable based fat. Historically, shortening was a blanket term for any cooking fat, butter included. Butter was used for the cookies, hence the name shortbread.
So what’s the difference between butter cookies and shortbread? A shortbread cookie has a high ratio of butter and flour. A butter cookie also has a lot of butter, but contains a more flour and sugar, meaning is can hold shape better than the tender, crumbly shortbread.
3 Ingredient Shortbread Ratio
Alright, lets get to the details of how to make these super easy shortbread cookies, that shortbread ratio that makes them successful every time. All you have to remember is 1, 2, 3.
1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, and 3 parts flour, that’s really it!
How to Make Shortbread Cookies
To make this work you use an equally easy 2 step process.
- Cream together softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Do this thoroughly as it provides a good portion of the texture of your final cookie. 2 to 3 minutes should do.
- Add the flour. It’s essential to avoid over mixing! You can use your stand mixer if you’d like, but I recommend watching it very carefully. For the most tender cookies, use a rubber spatula to begin incorporating flour and finish it by hand (yes, your actual hands) until the flour is completely incorporated.
The dough will not appear to be crumbly, but not dry. It’s at this point you want to shape it.
Shaping Your Shortbread
Once you’ve got your dough together, it’s time to shape! There are a few different methods depending on the look you’re after.
Rolled Out & Cut
- For clean edges or shaped cookies, lightly flour a clean surface or use a silicone non stick baking mat and turn out your dough onto it.
- Use your hands to bring it together into a ball. Then lightly flour a rolling pin and gently roll the dough to 1/4″ thick.
- At this point either lightly flour a cookie cutter and cut out desired shapes, or use a knife or bench scraper to create clean edges and cut squares or rectangles from the dough.
- Reform any extra dough gently and cut to match.
- Bake at 350°F for 8 minutes, let cool on pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool.
- For truly easy shortbread cookies, simply form tablespoon sized balls of dough in your hands and press onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake at 350°F for 8 minutes, cool on the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack!
Pressed into a Pan
- For a sheet style cookie you can press the dough into a parchment lined 9 inch cake pan or springform pan (my preference!), or 8 x 8 casserole dish.
- TIP – Cut your parchment paper to allow edges to come up the sides of the pan, this will let you take it out of the pan easier without breaking it.
- Press the dough as flat and evenly as possible, then use a fork to pierce the dough. This prevents the dough from puffing up too much while baking.
- Bake at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, handling it too soon will cause it to crumble.
- Very gently lift the shortbread out of the pan and slice into desired shapes while still warm for cleaner edges. Let cool!
Rolled into Log & Sliced
- For a traditional round, sliced shortbread cookie first lay out a rectangular sheet of plastic wrap.
- Place your dough onto the center of the sheet and form it into a rough log, running lengthwise with the long edge of the plastic wrap.
- Try to form the log to be an even width along the entire length.
- Tightly wrap dough in plastic wrap and twist either end against the edges of the dough (like a tootsie roll).
- Against a flat firm surface, roll the dough log like a rolling pin, keeping your thumbs pressed gently but securely against either end. This will keep the log an even width all the way through.
- When dough is rounded and even, place in fridge for 30 minutes to chill.
- Remove from fridge and slice 1/4″ thick cookies from the log and bake at 350°F for 8 minutes. Cool on pan for 2 minutes then transfer to cooling rack!
- TIP – This method works best for shortbread cookies that don’t contain large chunks of add ins like big pieces of nuts or chocolate chips. Large add ins will cause the dough to shatter and crack when slicing, so opt for chocolate shavings, spices, or classic recipes for this method.
Regardless of the shaping method you choose, once your cookies are baked and cooled, store them in an airtight container for up to 5 days!
Customizing the Traditional Shortbread Recipe
Now, while you can most certainly make 3 ingredient shortbread cookies using just that ever-so-simple, never fail shortbread ratio forever….you may want to change it up once you learn how easy it can be!
I recommend at least adding a pinch of salt, and a 1/2 tsp of vanilla per batch of cookies. This creates a recipe that looks like:
- 2 ounces of sugar,
- 4 ounces of butter,
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 ounces of flour
That alone takes easy shortbread cookies to another flavor level without making them any more difficult.
But flavor additions don’t have to stop at extracts. Nuts, chocolate, seeds, spices, or sprinkles are all excellent options to jazz up your cookies.
My Favorite Add ins
- Nuts – Almonds, pecans, peanuts, and walnuts are always delicious, chop for best distribution.
- Chocolate – White, dark, semi-sweet, milk chocolate, any chocolate of your preference is great in chip form or chopped. I also like fun flavored chocolate chips – butterscotch, caramel, or cinnamon
- Spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, ginger, or fun ones like chinese five spice.
- Fresh Herbs – Thyme, mint, and rosemary are delicious when chopped finely.
- Citrus – Zest and/or a splash of fresh juice, oranges and lemons are great.
- Seeds – Sesame, poppy, chia, or flax seed (ground or whole!)
- Extracts – Vanilla, lemon, almond, mint, or maple.
- Cocoa or Matcha powder – Replace a little bit of flour with these for a delicious new shortbread.
For whichever addition you choose, here’s my recommendation on how much to add of different add ins.
- 2 -3 tablespoons or so of chunkier things like nuts and chocolate
- 1 teaspoon of finer additions like poppy seeds.
- For cocoa powder, replace 1.5 tablespoons of flour
Try my other Shortbread cookie variations:
- White Chocolate Raspberry Shortbread Cookies
- Spiced Shortbread Cookies
- Shortbread Witch Fingers
- Chocolate Tart with Shortbread Crust
- Chocolate Dipped Espresso Shortbread
Yes! Shortbread cookies freeze well for about 3 months. To freeze place baked cookies or shaped raw cookies on a baking sheet and place into freezer until frozen. Then move to a freezer safe container and store.
For unbaked frozen shortbread, bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes.
No. After many, many, many trials of baking shortbread I am confident in saying it is NOT necessary.
However, chilling your shortbread can be done if you are:
-creating a molded cookie, such as a log for slicing, so that it will retain the shape.
-making it in advance and wish to bake fresh cookies later.
Too much flour is usually the cause of dry and crumbling dough or baked cookies. It can also occur if the dough has been overworked during mixing. To prevent this:
-Weigh your flour and mix it in gently to the butter and sugar.
-Avoid kneading or rerolling dough frequently.
-Lightly flour any work surface if you’re rolling and cutting cookies to avoid extra flour absorption.
Shortbread will keep nicely for 5 days when stored in a dry, airtight container. Avoid high heat (like sitting in the sun). If dipped in chocolate, layering stacks of cookies with wax paper can prevent sticking and smudging.
The Power of the Shortbread Ratio
So we already know how amazing this ratio is. Learning how to make shortbread cookies literally opens the door to any variation. 3 ingredient shortbread cookies are delicious, but seriously, why stop there?
Shortbread is my go to cookie, it never fails and always tastes great. It’s also the foundation for cookie experimentation! Add an egg or increase the sugar…then what happens? My Chewy Lemon Poppy Seed cookies were born of experiments from this traditional shortbread recipe.
I sincerely hope this 3 ingredient shortbread ratio opens up the possibilities of shortbread flavor to you. I’d love to hear what flavor combos are your favorite!
Don’t forget your Free Download of the Ultimate Shortbread Cookie Guide
Traditional Shortbread Recipe
- 2 oz sugar
- 4 oz butter softened (1 stick)
- 6 oz flour Between 1 to 1 1/4 cups
- 1/8 tsp of salt optional
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract optional
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Mix in the flour until dough begins to pull together from sides of the bowl and most of flour is mixed in. Don’t over mix the dough.
- Roll and flatten tablespoon sized balls between palms and place on baking sheet. Should produce between 10-12 cookies.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until bottom edges of cookies just begin to become a darker shade of gold.
- Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes on baking sheet then remove to wire rack for cooling.
Originally published 2017, Last updated 12/3/19
Nutrition information and cooking times are provided as a best estimate. Values may vary based upon ingredients and equipment.