What Are the Best Tips for Baking Shortbread?

Kali Cozyris

Baking shortbread so that it comes out perfectly is a bit of an art. It requires just the right amount of each of its three main ingredients — butter, sugar, and flour — to produce its signature crumbling, buttery lightness that also stands up to the sturdiness test. Many things can affect the outcome of this biscuit, but there are a few tips for baking shortbread that will help ensure its success. Using real, unsalted butter that is slightly softened, adding a bit of rice or cornflour, chilling the dough, and baking at a low temperature will all help shortbread rise to perfection.

Cake flour and eggs, two of the ingredients in shortbread.
Cake flour and eggs, two of the ingredients in shortbread.

Always use real, unsalted butter — never a butter substitute. The fat in butter is what gives shortbread its crumbly texture. Grade AA is the highest quality butter and is preferred for baking shortbread. Soften the butter until it is pliable but not melted or greasy and mix it with the sugar until the two ingredients are light and fluffy. One of the keys to perfect shortbread lies in the temperature, so it is important that the butter is not warmer than room temperature.

A measuring spoon, one of the basic tools for baking shortbread.
A measuring spoon, one of the basic tools for baking shortbread.

A little bit of cornflour added to regular all-purpose or cake flour gives shortbread a melt-in-the-mouth quality. Rice flour is also used in some recipes to give shortbread a sandy texture, if that is preferred. Once the flours are mixed, add a pinch of salt to the mixture, sift the flour and salt together and fluff up the mixture with a fork so it will blend well with the butter and sugar. Combine all of the ingredients until the dough starts to form, being careful not to overwork the dough, as this will make the shortbread tough.

Shortbread is rolled out on a wooden cutting board.
Shortbread is rolled out on a wooden cutting board.

Chilling the shortbread dough for 15 minutes helps firm it up so the shortbread biscuits maintain their desired shape as they bake. After chilling, take the dough out of the refrigerator and, using a rolling pin, gently roll it out onto a flour-dusted wooden cutting board until it is 1/2 inch (12.7 mm) thick. Cut the dough into the desired shapes and place on a cool baking sheet. Poke each shape once with a fork and place the baking sheet into the oven.

A tip for baking shortbread to its perfect color and consistency is to bake the shortbread at a low temperature — 200°F (93.3°C). This allows the shortbread to bake long enough to cook all the way through without browning or burning. By doing this, the shortbread will keep its customary pale, almost white color.

Flour and salt should be sifted together so they blend well with the butter and eggs.
Flour and salt should be sifted together so they blend well with the butter and eggs.

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Discussion Comments


Wholemeal Shortbread


100g soft unsalted butter

175g fine whole wheat flour, well sifted

Pinch of salt

50g light muscavado sugar


Pre-heat oven 175°c/350°F and prepare a baking tray. Mix the sugar, salt and flour together then rub in the butter to make a crumbly mixture. Press into a mould or form into a disc, crimp the edge, mark into 8 wedges then prick the surface to prevent the shortbread from rising and bake for 25-30 minutes or till golden.


Real Scottish Shortbread Petticoat Tails

This is the name for the wonderful melt in the mouth, 8 segmented shortbread round that is usually served at New Year (Hogmany) celebrations with a wee dram.


125g cold grated unsalted butter

50g caster sugar

225g plain flour

50g fine semolina

Extra caster sugar & 1 tbl ground hazelnuts to decorate


Rub the butter into the caster sugar to resemble fine breadcrumbs. Sift the flour & semolina tighter then rub into the butter. Press the crumble mixture into a shortbread mould, then turn out onto a baking tray and prick the surface to prevent the shortbreads from rising – but if you don’t have one then press the mixture into an 8” tin making it as level as possible, mark into 8 segments (without going all the way through) then prick the surface well to prevent the shortbread from rising. Bake at gas mark 4/350°F/180°c for about 20-25 minutes or till just beginning to colour, remove from the oven & cool the whole tray on a wire rack (dust with the extra caster sugar and ground hazelnuts now or it will all fall off when you try to eat them – very messy !) and only remove from the tin when firm enough as it is a bit fragile when first removed from the tin. Store in an air tight tin, it will vanish very quickly.


I like shortbread, but the ones I make always burn and the ratios of the three ingredients is never in right proportion.


If I add chocolate or nuts to my shortbread does it change the way I bake it?


Do you guys like to serve your shortbread plain or with some kind of topping? I know that it is traditional to serve it as it is, but I have had some delicious shortbreads that had frosting or icing on top. And if it tastes good, why not do it, right?


My mother was an expert at baking shortbread and around the holidays she would turn our family kitchen into what was basically a professional bakery for around two days.

She would bake up pounds and pounds of shortbread and give it all to all her friends, family and neighbors. I can't even imagine how much butter she used. But everyone was glad to see her when she showed up with shortbread. It was like her calling card.

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