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These 3-ingredient Scottish Shortbread Cookies come from an old family recipe that has been passed down for generations, and they’re perfect for holiday baking! Best of all, there are no eggs, no leavening agents, and no chilling necessary — so they’re ready to enjoy in less than one hour. Rich and buttery, but not too sweet, the simple treats are delicious alongside a mug of hot cocoa or a cup of coffee. Decorate Christmas shortbread cookies with icing and sprinkles for a festive touch!

Dipping the best shortbread cookie recipe in a mug of hot chocolate.

Shortbread Cookie Recipe

While my own family isn’t exactly Scottish, the recipe for these perfect shortbread cookies comes from our Scottish friends — the Stewarts! That means that even though I’m not an authentic Scot, the shortbread cookie recipe is definitely the real deal.

Bill Stewart’s Aunt Violet shared the recipe with his family (and with us), and she received the recipe from her mother. It’s one of those gems that gets passed from generation to generation because it’s so darn good. It’s a classic!

How to Make Scottish Shortbread Cookies | 1-Minute Video

Cookie dough in a stand mixer.

What do shortbread cookies taste like?

While the taste of shortbread cookies sends me straight back to my childhood, I love them just as much as an adult. They’re not too sweet, they’re perfectly buttery, and they’re ideal for a snack or dessert with a cup of coffee, tea, or hot cocoa.

If you’re not familiar with a traditional shortbread recipe, butter is definitely the prominent flavor. In other words…they’re amazing!

Rolling cookie dough with a wooden rolling pin on a marble board.

Shortbread Cookies versus Sugar Cookies

Shortbread cookies are not the same as sugar cookies. Sugar cookies require many more ingredients than shortbread cookies, and sugar cookies are typically sweeter, with a lighter texture. Shortbread cookies are dense and buttery, making them perfect for dipping! The shortbread dough is also very smooth and easy to work with. It’s not sticky, and it doesn’t even need to be chilled before cutting and baking.

Cutting cookie dough with a round biscuit cutter.

Ingredients for an Easy Shortbread Cookie Recipe

This is a quick overview of the simple ingredients that you’ll need for a batch of Scottish shortbread cookies. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe at the bottom of the post.

  • All-purpose flour: the base of the cookie dough.
  • Butter: I prefer salted butter. Make sure that it’s softened at room temperature so that it blends easily with the other ingredients.
  • Powdered sugar (also called confectioners’ sugar): for just the right amount of sweetness.

That’s right — you don’t need eggs, baking soda, baking powder, or any other ingredients to make the best shortbread cookies!

Fork piercing shortbread.

How to Make Shortbread Cookies

With such a simple ingredient list, you can have hot-from-the-oven shortbread cookies in less than 1 hour! There’s no need to chill the dough, and you can get creative with the cookie cutters to create any shape that you desire.

  1. Use the paddle attachment on an electric stand mixer to combine the softened butter, flour, and powdered sugar until a ball of soft dough forms. The flour mixture will look dry and crumbly at first, but just let the mixer keep running and eventually everything will come together in the most perfect dough. It’s like magic!
  2. Roll dough to about ¼-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.
  3. Cut into desired shapes, and then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  4. Pierce the dough with the tines of a fork.
  5. Bake in a 325°F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are just lightly browned.
  6. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!
Shortbread cookies in a Christmas cookie tin.

How to Cut Shortbread Cookies

Cut Christmas shortbread cookies into holiday shapes with your favorite Christmas cookie cutters. Classic Scottish shortbread, however, is often cut into rectangles or rounds. I typically use a round 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter to make large cookies. I also use a pizza cutter, sharp knife, or pastry cutter to slice the dough into rectangular strips.

How to Decorate

While a classic Scottish shortbread doesn’t typically have icing, the buttery cookie does provide a great base for frosted Christmas cookies! If you (or your kids) prefer shortbread cookies with icing, then I suggest preparing a batch of royal icing and getting creative! There’s no wrong way to do it, so throw on some red and green sprinkles and have fun.

Scottish shortbread cookies stacked on a Santa mug.

Buttery Shortbread Cookies are Perfect for Gifting

A sweet little package of this Scottish shortbread, along with some gourmet hot chocolate mix or a nice new mug and some coffee beans, is the perfect holiday gift for your favorite teacher, neighbor, or co-worker! But you better wrap them up quickly, because the cookies disappear fast!

Square shot of hands gifting a tin of Scottish shortbread.

Storage

Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

How to Freeze

Allow the cookies to cool completely. Wrap cooled cookies (a few at a time) tightly with plastic wrap. Then wrap again in foil for an added layer of airtight protection. Stash the foil-wrapped cookies in large plastic freezer bags or storage containers. They will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 2 months.

An easy shortbread cookie recipe served with a mug of cocoa.

Recipe Variations

  • Add finely chopped pecans, almonds, walnuts, or pistachios to the dough.
  • Flavor the dough with vanilla extract, almond extract, or other extracts of your choice.
  • Try lemon shortbread by adding lemon zest or lemon extract to the dough.
  • Turn the dough into chocolate chip shortbread cookies by adding miniature chocolate chips.
  • Dip the shortbread in chocolate after baking, then let the chocolate firm up as it cools.
Side shot of a tin of authentic Scottish shortbread cookies.

Tips for the Best Shortbread Cookie Recipe

  • Remember to soften the butter at room temperature. Cold butter will not blend easily into the other ingredients, so I like to leave the butter on my counter overnight before I plan to make the dough the next day.
  • Use salted butter for the best flavor. If you only have unsalted butter in your kitchen, you’ll want to add a pinch of salt to the dough to balance the sweetness and give the cookies a more complex flavor.
  • Keep mixing! The dough will look dry and crumbly at first, but let the mixer continue to run and the dough should come together in a nice, soft ball. It will have the texture of Play-Doh, so it’s easy to work with and not too sticky.
  • Pierce the dough with a fork before baking. Poking holes in the top of the shortbread dough allows the heat to evenly penetrate the treats, which helps the cookies bake evenly.

So what makes this the best shortbread cookie recipe? It’s love, my friends! The cookies have been loved for generations, and they carry the special memories and the amazing taste with them in every batch!

Christmas shortbread cookies next to a Santa mug.

More Christmas Cookies to Try

Hands serving a tin of scottish shortbread cookies

3-Ingredient Scottish Shortbread Cookies

4.94 from 44 votes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings 20 cookies
Calories 138.6 kcal
These 3-Ingredient Scottish Shortbread Cookies come from an old family recipe that has been passed down for generations, and they’re perfect for holiday baking!

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, not sifted
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
  • ½ cup powdered sugar (also called confectioners' sugar)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats; set aside.
  • In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour, softened butter, and powdered sugar. Mix on medium speed until completely combined and a soft dough forms. The mixture will look dry and crumbly at first, but let the mixer keep running for a few minutes and the dough will eventually form into a soft ball.
  • Roll out dough on a lightly-floured surface (to about ¼-inch thickness, or slightly thicker).
  • Use cookie cutters, biscuit cutters, or a sharp knife to cut out desired shapes. Place shapes on prepared baking sheets. Pierce with a fork.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, or until just lightly browned.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Video

Notes

  • Remember to soften the butter at room temperature. Cold butter will not blend easily into the other ingredients, so I like to leave the butter on my counter overnight before I plan to make the dough the next day.
  • Use salted butter for the best flavor. If you only have unsalted butter in your kitchen, you’ll want to add a pinch of salt to the dough to balance the sweetness and give the cookies a more complex flavor.
  • Keep mixing! The dough will look dry and crumbly at first, but let the mixer continue to run and the dough should come together in a nice, soft ball. It will have the texture of Play-Doh, so it’s easy to work with and not too sticky.
  • Pierce the dough with a fork before baking. Poking holes in the top of the shortbread dough allows the heat to evenly penetrate the dessert, which helps the cookies bake evenly.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cookieCalories: 138.6kcalCarbohydrates: 12.5gProtein: 1.4gFat: 9.3gSaturated Fat: 5.8gCholesterol: 24.8mgSodium: 65.6mgFiber: 0.3gSugar: 3g
Keyword: Christmas cookies, Christmas shortbread cookies, Scottish shortbread cookies, shortbread cookies
Course: Cookies, Dessert
Cuisine: European
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in December, 2017. The photos were updated in  November, 2021.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    These turned out delicious. The dough was too soft to roll out (perhaps I overmixed??) so I refrigerated it first. The butter flavor shines! Even my boss, who is very picky, thought that they were delicious. Thank you for sharing.

      1. Hi, Mariah! Absolutely! Just wrap them tightly and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. 🙂

  2. This recipe sounds great but from my experience, genuine Scottish shortbread, has only flour, unsalted butter (because you just want the butter flavour and white granulated sugar). Freezing & grating the butter, will bind better (I think allowing butter to soften is why the dough was too soft). I’m going to try this recipe, who knows the icing sugar (being more refined), might blend & cook quicker. (In case anyone wants to try this version as well, 5 c. flour, 1 lb. unsalted butter 2 c. white sugar, incorporate & mix butter in well, press into an 8×8, or an 9×9 square pan. Bake at 250* degrees, for 1 hour or until lightly golden. This isn’t meant as an offence to the author/baker, I just thought people might want a different version .(original Scottish shortbread)

  3. I forgot to mention to prick with a fork, 1” apart, also partially cut through (to make easier to cut & prevent crumbling. Best stored in a metal tin.
    I hope I didn’t come across as a know it all (not my intention at all) I think we can all learn from each other. Thanks Blair. God bless you!

  4. 5 stars
    Made these a few times. Quick and easy. Followed one commenter’s suggestion to roll in a log and slice. I refridgetate in a log for at least 1 hour and they slice easy. This time I added some chocolate chips and ut was amazing Chocolate chip shortbread.

  5. I have been using this cookie recipe for every occasion and love the simplicity of it. The cookies are delicious everytime. I use cookie cutters and decorate. It’s really a fool proof recipe. Thank you soo much for sharing.

    1. Hi, Donna! I think that will work fine. Just keep in mind that the dough will look really dry and crumbly for awhile. Just keep mixing, and eventually it will come together into a smooth dough. Hope you enjoy!