Baking Blog

Get Shorty: How to Make Perfect Shortbread

Perfecting the art of how to make perfect shortbread is sure to have many positive and delicious effects on your life. First and foremost, making shortbread means that you’re guaranteed a delicious snack, but it can also act as the perfect base for bar cookies, decadent pie crusts, and any number of other creative baking projects.

Here’s an introduction on how to make homemade shortbread, including variations, a discussion of its provenance and the proper techniques, and some tasty ideas for how to use it once it’s baked.

Get Shorty - Shortbread Tutorial on Craftsy

What is traditional shortbread?

Most signs to shortbread’s origins point to Scotland, where it’s said to have been enjoyed since the 12th century. As one Web site says, “There are as many recipes for shortbread as sand on the seashore.” It’s true: for a very simple recipe, there are many slight variations.

At its core, the key ingredients in shortbread are butter, sugar and flour. But the ratio may differ depending on the recipe, ranging from only very slightly sweet to “definitely dessert” territory. Added ingredients, such as salt, can round out the flavor, and the addition of cornstarch can create a soft, pleasingly crumbly texture.

Wait…cornstarch? Yes, it’s true.

Although it is hard to imagine bakers in the olden days of Scotland pausing to add cornstarch to their shortbread, there is a strong case for its use in modern times. Chances are, in times gone by, the flour had a lower protein and gluten content than all-purpose flour, which is used today. The cornstarch can “soften” the harder wheat for an end result that might possibly mimic old-fashioned results even more than using all-purpose flour.

Many will claim that one or the other is the only authentic shortbread. However, given how long shortbread has been around, it’s inevitable that variations will exist. Many recipes, therefore, can truthfully be called authentic.

The recipe shared in this post is a traditional shortbread recipe with cornstarch. What makes it a keeper, though, is how delicious the cookies are: tender in the center yet crisp on the edges, and full of buttery-sweet flavor.

Round, wedge or finger?

Stacked Pieces of Shortbread

There are a few traditional shapes in which you can serve shortbread. The form used in this recipe involves forming the shortbread into a round and cut it into wedges, pizza-style, before serving. The name for this presentation is “petticoat tails,” which is arguably the most adorable shortbread nickname around.

It’s also traditional to press the shortbread into a pan and cut it into bars or “fingers”; you may roll it out and cut it into rounds. All of these methods are authentic — it mostly depends on your preference.

While the shape will have no effect on the taste, it can have a distinct effect on the texture. The wedge style yields a softer, thicker piece of shortbread; the fingers form a crispy-on-the-edges, soft-inside cookie. Cutting them into circles will ensure even crispiness with just a slight chewiness inside. All shortbread, regardless of shape, will become more crisp after baking, though, so these texture variances may not be as evident a day or two after baking.

Dots and lines

You’ve probably noticed that both commercial and homemade shortbread share a distinct visual similarity: they’re perforated with dots on top. At home, this is attained by lightly pricking the top of the shortbread with the tines of a fork before baking. This allows steam to escape and prevents a bubbly, uneven top — or even worse, cracking. Here’s what could happen if you don’t give your cookies a slight perforation:

Piece of Shortbread, Bit Cracked

If your shortbread is baking in the “petticoat tail” style or in a pan, scoring the shortbread before baking where you’d like to cut later is a good idea; cuts made after the shortbread has been baked can be slightly ragged. It won’t affect the taste, but it will yield a more polished result.

Perforating Shortbread with Fork

Baking on parchment

Shortbread on Parchment Paper

The high amount of butter yields a cookie that doesn’t stick too much to a pan. However, you may find that baking on top of a piece of parchment paper ensures easy transferring of the cookies. If baking in a pan, a strip of parchment paper running along the bottom of the pan with “handles” poking up above the dough is very helpful in allowing you to remove the squares from the pan.

Doubling the recipe

This recipe can be doubled quite easily. However, the dough may be harder to handle if you form it into one huge ball of dough. So while you can mix the dough with doubled quantities, be sure to separate it into two equal parts before rolling it out, or, if using a pan, press into a larger pan. A 9″ by 13″ pan will work very nicely. Also, keep in mind that the baking time may be slightly longer if the recipe is doubled.

Other recipe notes

As previously mentioned, this recipe contains cornstarch, which softens the flour in the cookies, yielding a tender, crumbly shortbread. However, the cornstarch is not vital to the recipe’s success. You can simply omit the cornstarch with no big complications — your shortbread will just be a bit crispier and less tender.

Because this recipe has so few ingredients, be sure to use fine quality ones; for instance, homemade butter, or one of the fancier European types at the store will taste great.

To store the shortbread, keep in an airtight container. It will keep for up to 2 weeks. It can also be frozen for up to 2 months.

How to make perfect shortbread

Adapted from Traditional Scottish Recipes


  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (about 6 ounces)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened (4 ounces)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar (about 2 ounces)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch (about 1 ounce)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Click here to see our Metric Conversion Guide.

Step 1:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Step 2:

Cut the butter into pieces. Using a wooden spoon, mix the butter and sugar by hand until pale and creamy.

Mixing Butter and Sugar

Step 3:

Sift the flour, cornstarch and salt into the bowl of creamed butter and sugar, and mix well, continuing to use your wooden spoon.

Sifting Flour

It will begin to come together in a somewhat crumbly dough, but it should very easily clump together if you gather it with your hand.

Rolling Shortbread Dough

Step 4:

Lightly flour a work surface. Place the dough on top. Roll out the dough until it is about ¼-inch thick.

Step 5:

Decide what shape you’d like the shortbread in. If you’d like it to be a round, shape it into a circle by hand. If you’d like it to bake in a pan, press it into a greased 8″ by 8″ pan. Or, simply cut the rolled dough using a lightly floured cutter.

Score the dough if it will be sliced after baking, and lightly prick all over with the tines of a fork.

Cutting Shortbread into Pizza Shaped Pieces

If baking as a large round or as small cutout cookies, transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Step 6:

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until the sides and bottoms are lightly browned but the top is just set.

Step 7:

Let cool on the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Don’t get greedy, or you might burn your mouth.

Freshly Baked Shortbread

Now that you have the mode to make perfect shortbread, here are some suggestions to make it even better:

Shortbread Topped with Chocolate

  • Add a tablespoon of rosemary, lavender or an herb of your choosing.
  • If baking in a square pan, top with a layer of caramel or dulce de leche, then add a thin layer of melted chocolate on top. You’ve got what they call “Millionaire’s Shortbread,” a name probably owing to the extremely rich nature of the finished bars.
  • Use the cookies to garnish what promises to be an amazing ice cream sundae.
  • Use the cookies as bookends for a wonderful s’more.

What’s your favorite shape of shortbread?



I used cornstarch for the first time recently, and it produced an amazing shortbread. I pressed it into a pan and made fingers. Crumbly, melts in your mouth…oh, so good!


Will never make again without the cornstarch. Wonderful texture.


Cornstarch was moms secret ingredient. She got it from her mother in the 1950s. We only got them on Christmas. The melt in your mouth.


Why must you mix it by hand?

Angie Brown

Because an electric whisk will overwork the ingredients and you won’t obtain the crumby texture. Also you will whisk too much air in the mixture. Hope this helps.

Peggy McAmis

I bought a ceramic shortbread 7″ pan with a beautiful pattern in it. My shortbread stuck and came out a mess. I did spray the pan . What did I do wrong.?
It tasted great but did not have any pattern.

Angie Brown

I’ve never baked in ceramics and only use lightly buttered tins with greaseproof paper. I grease with butter to 1) hold down the greaseproof paper 2) if the paper tears a little, the mix doesn’t stick to the tin

Perhaps some ceramics don’t conduct heat as well as metals, such as tin. Just a guess.

Christine Stephens

Made 4 batches. 1st batch texture was perfect but the flavor was bitter. The other 3 batches changed the flour tried different European butters. Flavor was good but the texture is too crisp, not tender. Would overmixing or pressing the shap too much cause the toughness?

Angie Brown

Some people like to use ready salted butter to reduce sweetness. Sugar can turn acidic. Not having tried this recipe yet though i’m just ‘guessing’ from what I know of the ingredients.
I would suspect that overworking ingredients or pressing down too hard could make the end result too tough. Just my thoughts.

Angie Brown

I can’t see where else to thank the author for the very good, detailed information and the recipes, so thank you here. I am looking foward to baking this.


Hallo! Thank you for this article. Really helpful.

Do you think that perforated trays would help to bake through? Or what kind of pans would you suggest? I press my dough in a square tray, and cut it afterwards. Sometimes its nice and brownish on top, but still a bit raw underneath.

Sometimes it also looks as if the top part are rising, and puffing (although I prick it with a fork) and then the top of the end product separates from the bottom. Braking into layers.


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