These are the Best Butter Shortbread Cookies! They are deliciously crisp and rich, just like the classic Danish butter cookies that come in the blue tin. A fresh batch of these is especially wonderful for Christmas and holiday baking. The dough is easy to make using five simple, natural ingredients.
Dare I say that these are my favorite cookies ever?
There are all sorts of stunts out there with dessert, busy concoctions like Monster Cookies or these White Chocolate Dipped Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies, but it’s hard to beat classic, butter shortbread.
These are reminiscent of the Danish butter cookies that come in those blue tins around Christmas time. I have such a nostalgia for those, as they always appeared in our pantry during the holidays of my childhood.
What’s most funny about those blue tin cookies is there are always several different types, but it’s all the same dough, just baked in different shapes. It really shows how much the shape and texture of the cookie can change the experience.
The circular swirls were always my favorite kind in the tin, so that’s how I pipe these, but you can do whatever shape you prefer. You can also have success rolling the dough out and cutting shapes with cookie cutters, or simply doing a “slice and bake” by shaping the dough into a cylinder or log.
Use a Good Butter for the Best Results
I usually opt for European Style butter for this recipe, which has a higher butterfat content than the cheaper butter. Because these shortbread cookies are so simple, it’s a good case for splurging on the really good stuff.
The whole point of these cookies is that you get a crisp, buttery experience where the sweet cream flavor of butter really comes through. My personal favorite choice is Kerrygold Irish Butter, which is readily available here in the US.
This Dough Is Forgiving
One thing I love about this recipe is that the end results are very forgiving with regards to piping the dough.
You’ll see below in my process shots that I’m not the best piper in the world (okay, I’m actually pretty terrible at piping, which is why I’m not a cake decorator), but the cookies still bake up and spread beautifully.
Any flaws in piping smooth out as they bake.
This Recipe Is Shipping Friendly and Sturdy
These cookies are also very sturdy, which makes them great to be shipped or gifted to friends and family (see 12 shipping-friendly food gift ideas for Christmas and beyond for more ideas).
When I make tins for shipping, I’ll usually include some plain ones, plus some dipped in white chocolate, and some dipped in dark chocolate. You can even add sprinkles or whatever you’d like to jazz them up. Not that they need jazzing. They’re delicious plain too!
Step by Step Overview:
As an overview, here are the steps:
- Cream together butter, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla.
- Add flour.
- Add milk.
- Pipe dough into circles on baking tray.
Cream Together the Butter and Sugar
Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, start by creaming together two sticks of room temperature butter with confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract, using medium-high speed:
It’s very important the butter is softened to room temperature, otherwise it will be very difficult to pipe the cookies.
Ideally, Use Salted Butter
Shortbread is the only instance in baking where I now use salted butter.
Normally when I make Cookies, I always use unsalted butter so I can control the salt content, but I found with shortbread that when you add salt yourself, the salt never really dissolves or disperses as well. Using salted butter ensures even seasoning, and in my experience, a better cookie.
If you only have unsalted butter on hand, you can still make this. Simply add a pinch of salt with the flour.
The butter and sugar are properly mixed when it looks fluffy and light, but very smooth when spread with a spatula:
Add the Dry Ingredients
Add all-purpose flour to the bowl. If you used unsalted butter, add the salt now as well. You may also add orange zest, or any desired spices that you’d like. Sometimes I’ll add orange and cinnamon, which really makes these feel like nostalgic Christmas cookies.
Mix with the hand mixer until you get pebbles, like this:
Add a Touch of Milk
Now add one tablespoon of milk:
Mix for another 15 seconds or so until the dough comes together:
We are using the BARE MINIMUM of liquid here, just enough to bring the dough together. Resist the temptation to add much more, as it will change the texture of the butter cookies and not be as crisp.
Pipe the Dough
Place the dough into a piping bag fitted with a very large star tip (mine was the Ateco 827). You really need to use an oversized tip here, otherwise the dough will be impossible to pipe. You may also use a cookie press if you prefer it.
Pipe circles of dough onto a silicone mat or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet:
What I like about the mat (affiliate) more than parchment paper is that the mat is nice and heavy, so it’s easier to pipe onto it. When using parchment, sometimes the paper wants to lift up with the tip.
Space out 12 circles per half sheet pan:
Don’t want to pipe?
If you don’t have a very large piping tip, or if you don’t want to pipe the dough at all, you can also roll the dough 1/2″ thick on a lightly floured surface using a rolling pin, and cut your desired shapes with a knife or cookie cutters.
You may also shape the buttery cookie dough into a log, then slice and bake. I recommend cutting 1/2″ thick, but you may do thicker or thinner as you desire.
Bake each tray until the piped circles are golden brown on the edges, then let the shortbread cookies cool completely. This is very important for having a crispy, pleasingly crumbly texture.
It’s fine to cool these right on the tray instead of transferring the cookies to a wire rack.
I personally love these plain, but feel free to dip them in melted chocolate, add sprinkles, or decorate them as you see fit. There are lots of options to jazz these up if you’d like, but know that these delicious cookies certainly don’t need it.
These classic shortbread cookies are perfect for a cookie exchange or another occasion for sharing sweet treats during the holiday season. For more shortbread recipes, also try Lavender Shortbread Cookies, Coconut Shortbread Cookies, or Millionaire’s Shortbread. And if you want to do some true holiday cookie decorating, these are the Best Cutout Cookies for that.
The full printable Shortbread Cookie Recipe is below, and I have a full video for these as well if you want more guidance.
More Favorite Christmas Recipes
Recipe FAQ and Tips
Yes, they freeze beautifully! Store in an airtight container or bag for up to two months.
Brown sugar is usually added for chewiness, which you don’t want here. These are supposed to be crisp and crumbly. So, I don’t recommend brown sugar.
Definitely! And these honestly don’t taste best when they are freshly out of the oven. You want to let them cool completely, ideally for a few hours.
Let cool completely, then store in an airtight tin at room temperature for up to two weeks.
This means the butter warmed up too much while you were working with the dough. Next time, pop the tray with the piped cookies into the fridge or freezer until the cookies are firm to the touch and chilled, 15-30 minutes, then bake immediately.
Did you enjoy the recipe? Please leave a 5-star rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page.
- 1 cup salted butter at room temperature (8 ounces)*
- 1 cup confectioner’s sugar (4 ounces by weight)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour (10 ounces by weight)
- 1 tbsp milk**
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Place the butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla in a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until combined, light, and fluffy.
- Add the flour and mix until it’s crumbly and looks like it can’t be mixed more.
- Add the milk and keep mixing. The dough should clump together after about 15 seconds.
- Place the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a very large star tip, and pipe onto a silicone mat lined baking sheet, with no more than 12 cookies per sheet.
- Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until lightly golden.
- Let them cool completely (on the tray is fine)***, and enjoy!
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.