Close your eyes and imagine biting into a shortbread cookie. That shortbread cookie recipe you are dreaming of is sweet, buttery, and has a hint of vanilla, right? Well, that’s a good starting point.

But chef and food writer Mark Beahm of The Sunday Baker wants you to see the full potential of these classic treats. "Because shortbread is so simple," Beahm says, "It’s also very versatile. There are a million things you could do to spruce up your shortbread. The easiest is to sprinkle coarse sugar or granulated sugar over the top before baking," which amps up the sweetness. You can make them more nuanced (read: delicious) by "drizzling them or dunk[ing] them in chocolate or caramel," Beahm says, or "you could spread them with jam or make a cookie sandwich with jam, ganache, or caramel."

However you choose to spruce up your shortbread cookies, it’s hard to go wrong. As for what you need for the base recipe of these cookies, there are just five ingredients that require about 15 minutes of hands-on work, so let’s get on with them.

Gather your ingredients to make this shortbread cookie recipe

As noted, there are but five ingredients needed for this shortbread cookie recipe, so it’s not super complicated. In fact, you likely already have a bunch of this stuff in your kitchen. You’ll need unsalted butter, softened to room temperature, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, all-purpose flour, and salt.

Simple enough, so know that it’s all in how you use the stuff. Gather everything together before you start working so you’ll have everything you need as you start baking.

Prepare pan and oven, then make the dough for this shortbread cookie recipe

Start things off with this shortbread cookie recipe by preheating the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly greasing a nine-inch round cake pan with oil, spray, or butter.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract, ideally doing so with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for about two minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy. You can also use a stand mixer or, if need be, do it by hand.

Now, add the flour and salt into the mix and run the mixer on low speed until it forms a stiff dough. The dough might seem too dry, but keep beating just until it all comes together. If it really won’t blend well, add a tablespoon of water. "If you over-mix it," Beahm, cautions, "the shortbread will be tough."

Transfer the dough and press it flat to make this shortbread cookie recipe

Transfer the dough for this shortbread cookie recipe to the prepared pan and then cover the dough with a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap so that it doesn’t stick to your hand as you work on this step. You can also use disposable plastic food gloves, or just plan to stop and rinse and dry your bare hands several times while doing this part.

However you prep your hand, use your palm to press the dough firmly into the greased pan, spreading it evenly to the edges of the pan and flattening the top as fully as possible. "If you want the top to be extra smooth and even," Beahm says, "you can use the back of a spoon to smooth it out."

Prick and pre-cut the cookie dough for this shortbread cookie recipe

Once the shortbread cookie recipe dough is all spread out and flattened in the pan, prick the dough all over with a the tines of a fork. "This allows the steam to escape while baking and prevents it from bubbling or rising unevenly as it bakes," says Beahm, but it also gives you a good opportunity to "use a fork or a wooden skewer to make a nice pattern."

Now, using a sharp knife, cut the dough into eight to 12 wedges. This scores the dough so it’s easier to slice when it’s baked.

Bake then slice the cookies for this shortbread cookie recipe

Now, bake that pricked, sliced dough in that preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges and the dough is just starting to color in the middle.

Remove the shortbread cookie recipe from the oven and carefully slice it again while it’s still warm. "It’s definitely a good idea to cut the shortbread right when it comes out of the oven," Beahm says. "The cookies harden as they cool, and if you wait until they’re room temperature to slice, they might break and crumble."

Now, let the shortbread cool to room temperature and enjoy it, or you can store shortbread in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three weeks.

  • ¾ cup (1-½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan.
  2. Beat together the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, about 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed until if forms a stiff dough. The dough might seem too dry, but keep beating until it comes together. If it really won’t, add a tablespoon of water.
  4. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Cover the dough with a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap so that it doesn’t stick to your hand while you use your palm to press the dough, spreading it evenly to the edges of the pan.
  5. Prick the dough all over with a fork. This allows the steam to escape while baking and prevents it from bubbling or rising unevenly as it bakes.
  6. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 8 to 12 wedges. This scores the dough so it’s easier to slice when it’s baked.
  7. Bake in a preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and just starting to color in the middle.
  8. Remove the shortbread from the oven and carefully slice again while it’s still warm.
  9. Let the shortbread cool to room temperature.