Simple Shortbread: One Recipe, Four Cookies

Christmas cookies are everywhere you look these days. This month, magazines have devoted entire issues to them, bloggers and bakers just wrapped a #cookieweek theme on Twitter and cookbooks such as the brand new Gourmet Cookie Book are inundating us with endless options for sweet, buttery goodness.

Every year there is some new trend, some riff on a classic or old favorite, but it is rare that I am swayed. Sure, I try a few new cookie recipes every holiday season, but one variety that I am eternally devoted to are shortbread.

No matter how busy I am during the weeks leading up to the holidays, I always make time for classic homemade shortbread. This simple combination of only four ingredients – flour, sugar, butter and salt – claims to be the best cookie out there and I tend to agree.

If you are bored with the classic recipe, the good news for you is that there are many variations that you can make on the standard, as this type of cookie lends itself very genially to manipulation.

Here are directions for making four different varieties of cookies using the same dough. All are simple to make and don’t require the extra step of rolling dough and cutting shapes (although that is a fine option and the dough works well for that method too).

Basic Vanilla Shortbread

Recipe by Ina Garten from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Makes about 4 dozen small shortbread. This recipe can be divided into four and a dozen of each variety of cookie made from the suggestions below, or you can make the entire batch into the shortbread of your choosing.

  • 3/4 pound (1 1/2 cups or 3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.
  3. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and bring everything together with your hands. Divide dough into four pieces and flatten slightly. Wrap each piece in plastic and chill OR prepare one of the shortbread cookie recipes below.

Now, you can either roll the dough, cut out shapes and bake them into cookies, or try one (or all) of the four delicious variations below.

One Recipe, Four Types of Cookies

Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread Diamonds

  • 1 ball of shortbread dough (1/4 of the recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
  1. Press one quarter of the cookie dough into a 7×7 square pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Pat down firmly.
  2. Using a small ruler and a sharp knife (as pictured above), cut dough diagonally into strips, and then from top to bottom, making about a dozen diamond-shaped cookies. Chill for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for about 16-20 minutes and slightly golden around the edges. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate on low in the microwave and stir until smooth.
  4. Remove pan from oven and allow pan to cool slightly. Remove shortbread from pan using the parchment and place on a cutting board.
  5. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the shortbread into diamonds using the pre-made lines. Dip into melted chocolate until half-covered and place on a wire rack to set.

Jam Shortbread Thumbprints

  • 1 ball of shortbread dough (1/4 of the recipe above)
  • Jam or jelly of your choosing
  1. Roll shortbread into 1-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with your palm.
  2. Make a small indentation in the top of the cookie using your thumb or finger. Spoon about a 1/4 teaspoon of jam into the hole. Chill for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for about 10-12 minutes and golden on the bottoms.

Russian Tea Cakes

  • 1 ball of shortbread dough (1/4 of the recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  1. Roll shortbread dough into 1/2 inch balls and place on a baking sheet. Chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Bake for 12-16 minutes until slightly golden on the bottom.
  3. Place powdered sugar in a medium-sized bowl and add warm cookies. Toss to coat.
  4. Place on a cooling rack and allow tea cakes to cool.Toss again in powdered sugar and store in a cool dry place.

Lemon-Glazed Shortbread

  • 1 ball of shortbread dough (1/4 of the recipe above)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • Sprinkles or decoration of your choosing
  1. Shape the dough into a log and roll to smooth the edges. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Unwrap the shortbread log and slice into 1/4 inch rounds (or thicker if you prefer) and place onto cookie sheet. Bake about 10-12 minutes and until slightly golden. Cool.
  3. Mix together powdered sugar and lemon juice. Add a few more drops of lemon juice if mixture is not runny enough.
  4. Spoon glaze onto cookies and add decorations, if desired. Allow icing to harden for several hours. Store in an airtight container.

More Variations

This weekend I’ll be hosting my annual holiday cookie swap, one of the most anticipated events of the year; well, for me, anyway! I haven’t decided what I’m making yet, but it could very well be a classic shortbread or one of these livelier adaptations.

  • Dried Fruit: Cherries, cranberries, and other dried fruits add wonderful textures and flavor to shortbread.
  • Almond: Add 1/4 cup powdered almonds and 1 tsp almond extract to the creamed butter.
  • Lemon: Add 2 teaspoons lemon zest and a few drops of lemon extract if desired. Experiment with all types of citrus.
  • Ginger: Substitute brown sugar for the white sugar in basic recipe. To the flour mixture add 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and a pinch of cloves.
  • Chocolate: Add ½ cup cocoa to the flour and salt and proceed with recipe. Dip cooked cookies in dark chocolate for an irresistible double-chocolate cookie.
  • Espresso: Dissolve 2 tablespoons espresso powder in 1 teaspoon hot water. Add to creamed butter and sugar mixture before adding flour.
  • Nuts: Add lightly toasted and chopped hazelnuts, pecans, or (insert your favorite nut variety here) to give a lovely texture and flavor to your shortbread.
  • Herbs: Rosemary is spectacular when paired with lemon, as is lavender, so don’t rule out the spice & herb cabinet when creating your perfect shortbread.


This post is brought to you by Plan to Eat because cookies aren’t recommended for dinner, no matter who you are. For meal ideas, menu planning and tips on getting dinner on the table, choose Plan to Eat.

Do you have a favorite flavor of shortbread?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

Subscribe For Free!

Like reading this post?
Get more delivered to your email inbox.


  1. I was so excited about this that I jumped in and started with salted butter before I realized.Can I fix this by leaving the salt out of the recipe?

  2. Aimee, what am I doing wrong. My daughter and I just made these and tried all four variations. However the thumbprints and Russian Tea Cakes just melted and didn’t retain their shape. We double checked the recipe and we followed it exactly and refrigerated it for 30 minutes and the balls were nice and hard before baking. Help!

  3. Russian tea cookies are made of kefir, not short bread dough

  4. Thank you so much! I used this recipe for Christmas gifts and everyone loved them. It makes such beautiful cookies. I did one with sweetened peanut butter mixed in with the chocolate shortbread and one with cinnamon sprinkled on the chocolate shortbread in addition to many of your wonderful suggestions and recipes. Merry Christmas!

  5. With an egg allergy it’s always tough when I get a craving for a cookie (choosing between a little itchy face & slightly puffy lips for a few hours or simply not giving in to the desire to indulge). I have a Navy friend I’m always sending cookie care packages – he’s a “chocoholic” – I think his next batch of cookies will be the double choc shortbread variation – very rarely do I get to sample the treats I bake!

  6. I personally love the chocolate dipped diamond shape bread, yes it’s perfect for kid’s parties, but it may as well work just fine on adult parties.. A big thank you for sharing these recipes, looks like this is something to experiment on and add it up unto our menu on our catering company.

  7. I would love to start my Christmas baking now. Can I freeze the shortbread at all once they are baked? or is it better to freeze the dough and then bake them closer to Christmas? Love the variations.

  8. Now granted that it could have been me and not the recipe but I have quite the experience making cookies. This recipe didn’t work out for me at all. I followed the instructions to a T and I was left with a mess on my hands after baking.

  9. Oh, those Russian Tea cookies looks amazing!
    I’ll definitely try these when my friend comes over! 😀
    Thanks a lot for the inspiration 🙂

  10. My tea cakes lost their shape…But they are still very tasty.

  11. Mary Lou Barnett says

    Swiss Colony has a iced Bon Bon cookie with sprinkles on top, ( no filling) that we love, I’ve been looking for a copy-cat recipe but haven’t found one as yet. Do you know how to make these. They look and taste like a vanilla or almond short bread with the white icing and little sprinkles. They sure are good!!

  12. Has anyone tried this recipe with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 flour? I think I will! Looks amazing!

Speak Your Mind