Buttery shortbread is not only a favorite holiday treat but it makes a great gift. Our cookie platter would be lonely without it.
My husband hails from Scotland, where shortbread is a BIG DEAL. Coincidentally, it is also the birthplace of shortbread, where it has been made, in one guise or another, for centuries. Wrap your head around that…a centuries-old cookie. Of course, they would never describe it as a “cookie” since it is a biscuit, but it is not a bread. Confused?
Shortbread is a favorite at holiday-time (or other special occasions like weddings), as it was historically an expensive luxury given that two of the main ingredients were butter and sugar. And while nowadays it is eaten year-round, and often given as a Scottish souvenir, it’s still special in our book.
Shortbread can be as simple as the key ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter, or it can be embellished with flavorings like vanilla bean, lemon or orange zest, dried lavender, ginger, or even chocolate. I like the addition of a bit of salt to offset the sweetness, like I do with pretty much any dessert or sweet. And a little cornstarch keeps the texture from becoming overly crumbly.
Traditionally, shortbread is baked in one of three ways: baked in a square pan and cut into rectangles (or “fingers”), baked in a round and cut into wedges, or cut into individual rounds. This recipe was tested in a square pan and cut into rectangles, but it could also be baked in a round cake pan and cut into wedges (also called “petticoat tails”).
Here, I’ve added lemon zest and a splash of juice to give this version of shortbread a little kick. Feel free to leave those out and experiment with any of the additions I’ve listed above.
Recipe: Lemony Shortbread
Makes about 2 dozen shortbread
- 1 1/3 cups flour
- 2/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tbsp
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
- 14 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9-inch square cake pan, then line the bottom and 2 sides with parchment paper.
- In a food processor, combine the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, salt, and lemon zest and pulse until mixed. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture, add the lemon juice and pulse just until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Press the dough into the prepared cake pan. If you like, use the bottom of a glass to smooth the surface evenly. Sprinkle the dough with 1 tbsp sugar. Pierce the dough all over with a fork. Bake until the shortbread begins to turn golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes, then cut into 24 bars. Let cool completely, then lift out of the pan using the parchment overhang. Serve.