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3-Ingredient Buttery Shortbread Cookies

These Butter Shortbread Cookies are the easiest, most flavorful shortbread cookies we’ve had the joy of making. They’re melt-in-your-mouth tender, with just the right amount of crispy bite. They’re great for freezing or gifting.

shortbread cookies with colorful sprinkles.
These are the EASIEST Scottish shortbread cookies, and they’re absolutely melt-in-your-mouth perfect.

Video: Watch Us Make This Recipe

Why This Recipe Stands out

  • 3 Ingredients: You probably already have flour, butter, and sugar.
  • Your Friends and Family: Your family and friends will absolutely adore these melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies.
  • Perfect Gifts: These are the perfect holiday cookies for gifting. They keep well and can even be shipped.
  • Colors and Shapes: You can change out the sprinkles and switch up the shapes to your heart’s content – for any occasion throughout the year.
  • Make Ahead: You can make the dough several weeks in advance.
  • Freeze: Baked cookies freeze beautifully, so you’ll have these on hand for lunchboxes and after work/school.

What is Scottish Shortbread?

Scottish shortbread cookies are the most simple cookies you can make during Christmas season and beyond. They’re called “short” because of the traditional ratio of the 1:2 ratio of sugar to butter, providing a higher fat content to the dough. This ratio is what yields a soft, buttery crumb that is literally melt-in-your-mouth amazing.

Scottish shortbread cookies use only flour, sugar, and butter, and are famous for their ultra-buttery, tender texture as well as their extraordinary flavor. They’re the perfect canvas for rolling and slicing, shaping with cookie cutters, and decorating any which way you’d like.

shortbread cookies with colorful sprinkles.
Shortbread cookies have a special butter to sugar ratio, which yields the tenderness they’re famous for.

3 Recipe Ingredients

flour, butter, brown sugar for shortbread cookies.
Flour, butter, and brown sugar are all you need for perfect shortbread cookies. Coarse sugar or sprinkles are optional.

These buttery, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies contain only 3 simple, pure ingredients and nothing else. No fillers, no additives, nothing artificial at all. You’ll need:

  1. Salted Butter – you’ll want to keep the butter cold. No need to soften or melt the butter. No extra salt is needed in the recipe, since you’ll be using salted butter. However, if you use unsalted butter, you’ll want to add 1/4 tsp table salt.
  2. Light Brown Sugar – the tip for brown sugar is to use fresh brown sugar that has not lost any of its moisture from sitting in the pantry too long. Many shortbread recipes use white sugar or powdered sugar, but light brown sugar is the secret to a deliciously caramelized flavor.
  3. Flour – simple, all-purpose flour will do just fine for this easy recipe.

Variations and Substitutions

These traditional shortbread cookies are perfect as-written, but if you like to tinker with variations, here are a few suggestions:

  • Butter: If you only have unsalted butter, go ahead and use that – just add 1/4 tsp fine table salt to the dough mixture.
  • Shapes: Change up the shapes! You can cut these cookies into 3×1″ traditional shortbread rectangle shapes and poke decorative holes with a fork. You can also make cookie rounds, like we do with 4-Ingredient Pecan Sandies.
  • Caramel: Transform this traditional shortbread recipe into caramel shortbread cookies!
  • Chocolate: Drizzle or dip these cookies with chocolate, for an amazing treat. See our Shortbread Cookies with Chocolate.
shortbread cookies cut into shapes with colorful sprinkles.
Switch up the sprinkles and shapes to fit any occasion throughout the year.

Step-By-Step Recipe Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add cold butter slices and brown sugar. Cream until mixture has a pasty texture. Scrape down sides and paddle. Add only 3 1/2 cups of the flour and mix on medium-low speed just until combined; do not over-mix.
  2. On a large board, sprinkle 1/2 cup flour to keep dough from sticking to the board. Knead dough by hand, adding only as much of the remaining 1/2 cup flour as needed to make a soft dough, while continuing to knead. The dough should end up soft and pliable, similar to play-dough, not sticky.
  1. Divide dough into 3 balls, and flatten them into discs. Wrap tightly with cling wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes or until firm enough to roll and cut shapes.
  2. Take out one of dough discs and roll it out to about 1/2 inch thickness – lightly flour board if needed. Either cut into 3×1 rectangular strips, triangles, or use cookie cutters (I use 1-2″ cookie cutters). Chill and bake until golden brown, 15-20 minutes.

    For complete list of ingredients and instructions, see recipe card below.

Make Ahead, Freeze, or Gift

These 3-ingredient buttery shortbread cookies make my top 3 favorite holiday cookies every single year. Not only are they easy to make and taste magnificent, they’re perfect for gifting:

  • These cookies keep nicely for days, making them a tasty edible gift.
  • The dough and baked cookies both freeze beautifully for several weeks.
  • Once I make a batch of this cookie dough, I often use half and freeze the other half for all those seasonal cookie emergencies that inevitably pop up during busy holiday season and beyond.

Love crisp and tender cookies? I think you might just adore these best Russian tea cakes!

Commonly Asked Questions

Are butter cookies and shortbread cookies the same?

The main difference in the two types of cookies is the amount of sugar to butter ratio. Butter cookies generally contain more sugar and are baked a higher temperatures. Shortbread cookies contain a higher fat content, which yields a melt-in-your-mouth texture.

What is the difference between Scottish shortbread cookies and regular shortbread cookies?

Are shortbread cookies soft or crisp?

Shortbread is a wonderful balance of tender and slightly crisp textures when you bite into it. At first, there will be a light crunch, followed by a melt-in-your-mouth sensation.

Can shortbread be made with margarine?

It’s important that shortbread be made with 100% pure, quality butter. It’s the high butter content that makes these shortbread cookies so incredible.

Why does shortbread dough need to be chilled before using?

Chilled dough allows butter to re-solidify and helps the cookies keep their shape during baking, preventing them from spreading too much.

Can the dough be made ahead of time and frozen?

Shortbread cookie dough freezes well. Divide dough into 3 even portions, wrap them airtight, and freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost desired amount of dough in the fridge a couple nights before you want to use it.

Can baked shortbread cookies be frozen?

Baked shortbread cookies freeze beautifully. Wrap them airtight and freeze for up to 1 month.

Shop This Recipe

  • cookie cutters

    A must-have for all the holiday cookies, from Christmas to Easter. Stainless steel.

  • cooling racks

    Ever run out of counter space for all the cooling racks? This multi-tiered rack even collapses for further space saving.

  • silicone baking mat

    This is a must-have for anyone who loves to bake cookies. Non-stick, reusable, easy to clean.

Did you make this?

Please give us a rating and comment below. We love hearing from you!

shortbread cookies with colorful sprinkles.

3-Ingredient Buttery Shortbread Cookies

4.51 from 734 ratings
These buttery shortbread cookies are simply divine. They are melt-in-your-mouth amazing, bursting with the goodness of butter, and easily dressed up or down.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 3 dozen
Author: Amy Dong

Ingredients  

Instructions

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, add cold butter slices and brown sugar. Using paddle attachment on medium-high speed, cream until mixture is combined and has a pasty texture. Scrape down sides and paddle.
    Add only 3 1/2 cups of the flour and mix on medium-low speed just until combined; do not over-mix.
  • On a large board, sprinkle 1/2 cup flour to keep dough from sticking to the board. Use rubber spatula to transfer dough to the board. Knead dough by hand, adding only as much of the remaining 1/2 cup flour as needed to make a soft dough, while continuing to knead. The dough should end up soft and pliable, similar to play-dough, not sticky.
    Gently work in desired amount of sprinkles, if using them.
    Important Note: You may not end up using all the flour, depending on how dough feels; it's important to stop adding flour as soon as your dough feels like soft play dough.
  • Divide dough into 3 balls, and flatten them into discs. Wrap tightly with cling wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes or until firm enough to roll and cut shapes.
  • Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325F, with rack on lower middle position. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats; set aside.
  • Take out one of dough discs and roll it out to about 1/2 inch thickness – lightly flour board if needed. Either cut into 3×1 rectangular strips, triangles, or use cookie cutters (I use 1-2" cookie cutters).
  • Place cookies 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Poke cookies with fork on top for a design, if not using sprinkles. Place entire baking sheet in fridge for 15 minutes.
  • Bake chilled cookies for 15-20 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. For smaller cookies, bake closer to 15 minutes; bake longer for larger shapes. Repeat with the remaining dough, working in batches so dough stays chilled.
  • Cool completely on wire rack before serving. Cookies keep very when sealed airtight, at room temp.

Notes

  • Note that 2 cups butter = 4 sticks butter.
  • Many shortbread recipes use granulated or confectioner’s sugar, but light brown sugar is the secret to a wonderfully caramelized flavor. 
  • If you need to use unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp fine table salt to the dough.
  • If you have unbaked cookies waiting to go into the oven, place them in the fridge to keep cold until it’s their turn to bake.
  • Unbaked dough can be frozen for up to 2 months. Wrap completely airtight; defrost dough when ready to roll/cut.
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Nutrition (per serving)

Calories: 128kcal | Carbohydrates: 13.4g | Protein: 1.3g | Fat: 7.8g | Saturated Fat: 4.9g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 20.3mg | Sodium: 62.3mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 4.5g
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Diet: Vegetarian
Method: baking, Oven

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4.51 from 734 votes (623 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating




297 comments

    • Krista Goguen

    I made these per recipe and dough taste and feels right. When I bake them they loose the cookie cutter shape and become a flat blob on the pan. What might I have done wrong.
    2 cups salted butter
    1 cup light brown sugar
    3.5 cups. AP flour.
    Placed in fridge in circular disk for 30 minutes.
    Just wonder if I can salvage the dough or if I need to toss ans try again

      • Amy Dong

      Be sure butter is cold to start with and that you beat it with sugar long enough (see video for texture) – flour should be beyond the 3.5 cups, for the dough to becoming like “play dough” – pliable yet not sticky. You definitely should be able to work in some extra flour so that they keep shape.

    • Breesie McCrudden

    I only have Demerara brown sugar can I use this?

      • Amy Dong

      Demerera’s large crystals won’t work in this recipe; you can use white sugar in place of the brown sugar. Enjoy!

    • rene

    I have never made a shortbread cookie with brown sugar.. Im gonna try it :))

      • Amy Dong

      Thanks, Rene!

    • Jenny
    • 5 stars

    My friend urged me to make your shortbread cookies and she was not wrong. They are easy to make and come out delicious. Thank you!

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