I’m a firm believer that shortbread cookies should be sinfully buttery and delectably tender. So my recipe uses less flour and more butter than many. There are various ways to make them so please refer to the notes for options. These are, as great shortbread cookies should be, not that sweet, quite delicate and when you bite into them, they crumble softly, as demonstrated in the VIDEO below. Use recipe scaler to reduce recipe if you wish (hover cursor over Servings and slide scaler).
Add half the flour and beat until mostly combined – it will resemble wet sand. Then beat in the remainder. Use your hands to bring it together into a smooth ball of dough – knead lightly if required.
1. RICE FLOUR: Some recipes use a combination of plain and rice flour. This makes the cookie slightly more tender. I find the base recipe tender enough as it is, so I typically do not use it. Also rice flour is not a pantry staple in my household. To do this swap out ¼ cup of the flour with rice flour. Just add it with the flour. Some recipes say you can use cornstarch/cornflour as well. I personally find this leaves a bit of a chalky taste.
2. SUGAR: I like to use icing sugar because the grains are finer so you get a smoother finish on the surface. Also icing sugar is about 1/2 the sweetness of sugar by volume.
There are 2 types of icing sugar in Australia - Soft and Pure. I use Soft because it's what I always have in stock for frostings. Pure also works (that's what is used for things like royal icing because it hardens) with no noticeable difference to me. (Soft icing sugar has cornflour mixed in, Pure is pure sugar).
The icing sugar can be substituted with 1/2 cup of white sugar, preferably caster/superfine sugar + 2 tbsp flour.
3. FOOD PROCESSOR / RUBBING BUTTER: Instead of creaming softened butter, the other method is to rub the butter in. This yields a more crumbly shortbread but the surface is rougher – see comparison photo in post. If you wish to use this method (which I believe is the original traditional method, think pre beater days!), this is how to do it:
* Cut COLD butter into 1cm / 2/5” cubes;
* Food processor: place all the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor. Pulse 20 times, then whizz on high for 25 seconds until it forms breadcrumbs. Turn out onto work surface and proceed with recipe;
* Rubbing: Place all the flour and sugar in a bowl, then add butter. Use fingertips to rub butter into flour until it forms breadcrumbs (see video for how it should look). Turn out onto work surface and proceed with recipe.
4. HOT WEATHER WARNING! If it is super hot where you are and/or you have very hot hands with the butter rubbing method, press the dough into the pan then refrigerate for 20 minutes or until chilled.
5. PRECUTTING: To cut out into shapes before baking, it is best to add ¼ cup of flour to make a dough that won’t spread as much when baking. Then roll out into 1 cm / 2/5” thickness and cut into desired shape, place on a baking paper lined tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 150F (fan forced) then bake for 15 minutes until the edges are just starting to the brown but the surface is still a pale gold.
6. METHOD NOTES: One thing I do a bit differently to most is to take the shortbread out towards the end of the bake time to cut into bars. This is because whenever I cut before baking, the cuts virtually disappear during baking (same with the holes pricked on top). If you cut the cooked biscuit, it has a tendency to make the surface crack slightly where you cut / poke. My solution is to do it partway through baking.
The other thing I do is leave the shortbread in the oven to cool. This is a tip I picked up from Cooks’ Illustrated – it allows the biscuit to finish cooking without the surface browning (shortbread cookies should be very pale).
7. MEASURING CUPS IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES: Shortbread is actually quite forgiving. I've tested this using both US and Australian measures and I couldn't tell the difference.
8. Store in an airtight container for 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.