How to bake simple shortbread plus 10 recipes

How to make shortbread

Good Food's Dan Lepard shows you how to make a traditional buttery treat - and decorate it!

Most good cooks have a few go-to dishes they can whip up without a recipe, dependable things to make on autopilot that can be adapted to fit their hunger, the contents of their fridge, or the occasion at hand.

This truth doesn't always extend to bakers, who are often at the mercy of a more complicated formula for their cakes and meringues. Shortbread, however, is one rich and crumbly exception.

Traditional Scottish shortbread biscuits.
Traditional Scottish shortbread biscuits. Photo: Eddie Jim

Consisting of only four ingredients that you probably already have on hand (butter, sugar, flour and salt), and lacking in challenging techniques, shortbread is quick to master and always delightful to serve.

What makes shortbread so accessible is the simple ratio of its ingredients: 125g butter to 1 cup flour, with sugar and salt added to taste.

I like my shortbread on the sweeter, saltier side. But feel free to take the sugar and salt down if you want something more restrained.

Sydney's Rabbit Hole tea bar bakes tea-infused shortbread rounds.
Sydney's Rabbit Hole tea bar bakes tea-infused shortbread rounds. Photo: Edwina Pickles

In Scotland, shortbread is often made with a combination of rice flour and wheat flour, which gives it a distinctive brittle crispness. Rice flour has become easier to find, thanks to a growing demand for gluten-free alternatives to wheat flour.

If you can get it and like a pronounced crunch, try substituting it for half a cup of the all-purpose flour. Other flours like wholemeal, buckwheat and cornmeal are also options for changing things up.

Classic shortbread generally doesn't have any other flavourings beyond those of the core ingredients. At its simplest, it tastes of good butter and not much else. So always use the best butter you can get.

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If you do want to add flavours, you can, as long as you don't add more than a teaspoon or so of liquid (vanilla, almond extract or rum, for example) to the dough. Anything more than that can make the cookies soft rather than crisp.

Dry ingredients like spices, citrus zest and vanilla seeds work better for preserving the brittle crumble of the cookie. You can also add nuts and seeds for texture and flavour.

Then bake your shortbread low and slow. It shouldn't take on much colour in the oven, staying pale on top, turning gold at the edges. Once it's baked and stored airtight, it will maintain its crunch for weeks – if it doesn't get devoured first.

Shortbread, 10 ways

Basic shortbread recipe

Ingredients

2 cups (250g) plain flour

⅔ cup (150g) castor sugar

¾ tsp fine salt

1 cup (250g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 2.5cm chunks

Method

1. Heat oven to 160C. Pulse together flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add butter and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some of the crumbs start to come together, but don't over-process; the dough should be somewhat crumbly. (You can also mix the dough in a bowl using two knives or a pastry cutter.)

2. Press dough into an even layer in an ungreased 20cm or 23cm-square baking tin, or a 23cm pie dish. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes for the 23cm square or pie dish, 45 to 50 minutes for the 20cm. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm.

Chocolate-chip macadamia shortbread.

Dan Lepard's chocolate-chip macadamia shortbread (RECIPE HERE). Photo: William Meppem

Here are nine variations for the master shortbread recipe above:

Scottish shortbread

Use 1½ cups plain flour and ½ cup white rice flour.

Tender shortbread

Substitute icing sugar for the castor sugar, and ⅓ cup cornflour for ⅓ cup of flour.

Vanilla bean shortbread

Split a vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the back of a knife to scrape out the seeds. Pulse the seeds into the flour-sugar mixture before adding butter. Or add up to one teaspoon vanilla extract with the butter.

Citrus shortbread

Add one to 1½ teaspoons finely grated lemon, lime or orange zest with the flour. Add up to one teaspoon orange blossom water with the butter if desired. These are classic with poppy seeds.

Nut shortbread

Grind ½ cup toasted nuts in the food processor with the flour before combining with remaining ingredients.

Lemon verbena shortbread. Caroline Velik LEMON VERBENA recipes for Epicure and Good Living. Photographed by Marina Oliphant. Food preparation and styling by Caroline Velik, cup and saucer from Manon bis, doily from Rock Paper Scissors.

Lemon verbena shortbread (RECIPE HERE). Photo: Marina Oliphant

Spice or seed shortbread

Add up to one teaspoon spices, like ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg or cardamom, or seeds like caraway or anise. Or add up to three tablespoons poppy or sesame seeds.

Brown or maple sugar shortbread

Substitute ⅓ cup light or dark brown sugar or maple sugar for the castor sugar. This yields a slightly softer shortbread.

Cornmeal or wholemeal shortbread

Substitute up to ½ cup cornmeal or wholemeal flour for ½ cup of plain flour. Season with spices, seeds, citrus or rosemary if desired.

Buckwheat shortbread

Substitute up to ⅓ cup buckwheat flour for ⅓ cup of plain flour.

The New York Times