My Dad’s recipe for traditional Christmas shortbread cookies. Make them early to allow them to age!
Today I’m sharing my Dad’s Christmas Shortbread Cookies recipe, that he makes every year in early December, then tucks away for holiday treats throughout the season.
It wouldn’t be Christmas for me without some traditional Christmas shortbread cookies. Shortbread cookies have been a staple every holiday season, going back a long way. My Dad’s mother, my grandmother, made the best shortbread cookies, but as far as I know, she (sadly) never shared her special recipe.
For many years my now 80-year-old Dad has taken care of baking the Christmas shortbread. He bakes them up in early December and let’s them age for a few weeks until Christmas. This year, I asked if I could come by and document the annual shortbread cookie making and post about it here. He looked slightly terrified, so I promised to only photograph his hands :)
My Dad didn’t retire until he was 76, so he didn’t have a lot of time for cooking over the years. Since retiring though, he’s turned in to quite the baker. I clearly inherited both my sweet tooth and my baking ways from him.
It was a beautiful sunny day in the kitchen for baking cookies and my Dad had the dough all ready and chilled. My Mom swears by this cloth covered rolling pin and cloth rolling sheet and meant that Dad was able to use only a little flour for rolling out his dough. The less flour for rolling the better for these cookies as you can re-roll your scraps and cut more without introducing more flour in to the dough.
I’m a fan of rolled and cut shortbread cookies. The dough is perfect for it, as the cookies hold their shape really well. My Dad gets the dough out of the cutter by hitting the side of his hand on the pan until the dough drops out of the cutter and on to the baking sheet. This ensures that the cut shape stays perfect.
Traditional toppings for Christmas shortbread are glace cherries, in red and green (cut in quarters) or red or green sugar sprinkles. They make for a festive plate of cookies. You can also use a walnut piece or blanched slivered almond. Once the cookies are cut and topped with cherries or sprinkles, they are put in to the freezer on the cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes to chill again before baking. This helps them hold their shape well.
The cookies took about 30 minutes in the oven and were set onto cooling racks. As I noted above, shortbread cookies are ones that only get better with age, so bake them, cool and store in a cookie tin to age. You can also freeze both the cut dough shapes (to bake later) or the baked cookies.
And here are his beautiful finished cookies. I can attest to the fact that they were delicious since generous sampling was undertaken ;) Thanks Dad for sharing your cookie recipe and your kitchen!
Traditional shortbread cookies need to “age” to develop flavour. In fact, if you try one right after baking, you will discover they have very little flavour. The flavour develops as they age. Simply allow to cool completely and tuck in to a wax paper lined cookie tin. Allow to age a few days, at least and up to several weeks. They will only get better with time. The baked cookies can also be frozen, but best to let them age at room temperature for a few days before freezing.
Decorate your cookies for Christmas with quartered red or green glace cherries, red or green sprinkles or a walnut piece or blanched, slivered almond.
You can use salted or unsalted butter. If using unsalted butter, you can add about 1/8 tsp. of salt with the flour if you’d like.
Both the cut, but unbaked cookies and the baked cookies freeze well.
Remember that shortbread cookies get better with age, so make them ahead and if you can resist, fill up a cookie tin and let them sit for a week or more before Christmas eating.
Get the Recipe: Dad's Christmas Shortbread Cookies
- 1 cup butter,, at room temperature (you can use salted or unsalted butter. If using unsalted butter, you can add 1/8 tsp. fine salt with the flour if you like, but you don't need to)
- 3 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
- 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until light. Stir in the cornstarch and sugar. Gradually add the flour mixing until a soft dough forms. (Dad mixes his by hand and shared that sometimes you have to ditch the spoon and just get your hands in there to form the dough). Form dough in to a ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes to chill.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll your dough 1/4-inch thick. Take care to ensure that your dough is rolled as evenly as possible, so that cookies cook evenly. Using a cookie cutter, cut shapes and place on to an un-greased baking sheet. You can re-roll your scraps and cut more, as well. Once your cookies are cut, top with quartered glace cherries, sprinkles or nuts. Place cookie sheet with cookies in to the freezer for 10-15 minutes. (You can also freeze the cut dough in freezer bags once solid on the cookie sheet for up to 2 weeks and bake later or as needed.)
- Preheat oven to 275°F with rack in centre of oven. Bake for about 30 minutes for cookies that have been lightly chilled. If cooking from frozen, they may take up to 45 minutes. Cookies should be firm but shouldn't brown at all, even around the edges. They really just dry as they cook.
- Cool on racks then transfer to cookie tin or freeze. These cookies keep well and get better with age.
Hi! I’m Jennifer, a home cook schooled by trial and error and almost 40 years of getting dinner on the table! I love to share my favourite recipes, both old and new, together with lots of tips and tricks to hopefully help make your home cooking enjoyable, stress free, rewarding and of course, delicious!
May I ask… what is the reasoning for baking 275 for 30 minutes?
By the way… yours is the only recipe I use!! Yummy!!!
Hi Maria, the lower temperature for a longer time ensures a nice dry shortbread cookie without the risk of browning (so the cookies stay nice and light in colour). So glad you are enjoying them!
I’m throwing a tea party and would love to make these. As I would like my cookies to come out as beautiful and perfect as your Dad’s, would you please tell me what the diameter of the cookie cutter is?
Hi Barbara, I think it’s about 2 inches. Enjoy!
These have become my favourite shortbread recipe. Made them a few times this past Christmas. Everyone loves them. Thank you for sharing.
I’m so glad to hear, Gina :) Thanks so much!
Hi Jennifer…I use weight measures for all my baking and am wondering about the metric measure noted for the cornstarch. One tablespoon of cornstarch weighs between 7 and 9 grams, depending on whether you pack it or not. Your measure of 44 grams for 3 tablespoons cornstarch seems high. Could you please clarify the amount of cornstarch in the dough. Is it 3 tablespoons, or 44 grams? Thanks!
Hi Sadie, the metric measurements for this recipe were automatically calculated, and sometimes, it seems out of whack. Use the Tablespoon measurement to be sure, as that is how it was baked originally.
Hi Jennifer, Thanks for clarifying the cornstarch measure. I’d already made the dough with 44 grams cornstarch when I saw your reply, and even though it was about 5 tbsp of cornstarch, it doesn’t seem to have been detrimental. The cookies are amazing, and I’ve made a gazillion shortbread over the years. They’re so tender they literally melt in your mouth. I made the dough the night before and kept it in the cold cellar instead of the fridge. It needed about an hour at room temperature to soften enough to roll. I chilled the cutouts for about 2 hours before baking and they kept their cookie cutter shape. Great recipe!
I’m so glad to hear, Sadie! Enjoy the cookies :)
Hi: I tried your receipe and was quite satisfied with the results eventhough I didn’t completely follow the instructions. I rolled cookie dough into a ball and then flattened with a fork. I didn’t refrigerate dough before baking. Nonetheless, the cookies still turned out okay with one exception, and that was the bottom of the çookies were browned. I think the reason was because I baked them at too high. What temperature are we suppose to bake on, is it actually 275 f, that seems high?
Hi Trena, your oven might run a bit hot or perhaps they were a little bit over-baked. Shortbread can be hard to judge. They shouldn’t colour at all in the oven, so you want to get them before that, even though they may not look quite done.
Hello. I am wondering if anyone has tried this recipe using a GF flour mix.
The recipe sounds great. Can I double it?
Hi Johanna and yes, it should double just fine.
This has become the only shortbread recipe I make now. Absolutely perfect amount of sugar and the texture is spot on. They get better after a day or two in a sealed container…..if they last that long!
So glad to hear, Sandra! And I will let my Dad know, too. He will be turning 89 in a few weeks and he’s still baking cookies :) Thanks so much.
Made them last night….perfect! I dipped half the cookie in melted chocolate and sprinkled chopped almonds. Thank you for a wonderful recipe. Merry Christmas!
Sounds lovely, Gina! So glad you are enjoying them. My Dad is still making shortbread cookies, too :) Thanks and Merry Christmas to you, as well.
All I can say is thank you for such a wonderful recipe. Finally I had success with short bread. 👍❤️
So glad to hear, Deb! Thanks so much and enjoy the shortbread :)
Hello, I used this recipe last year and it turned out perfectly! I was wondering if you could roll into logs and slice and bake after chilling. Great post, thank you!
Hi Christina and yes, this dough should do just fine forming into a log and slicing. Thanks!
I followed this recipe exactly and both times it didn’t work. The first time, I thought that perhaps my butter was too soft so I made sure I didn’t let it sit out beyond 40 minutes the second time. I was able to form the dough (and chilled it for 45 minutes). When I went to roll it out, this is where it completely crumbled apart. I don’t know what went wrong :(
Hi Andrea, when it comes to shortbread issues, it’s almost always about the flour amount. If the dough was crumbly, there is too much flour (sticky means not enough flour). It can come down to type of flour or how it is measured. Try holding back 1/2 cup of the flour, then add it gradually add the end, adding only as much flour as is needed for the dough to form.
Love this recipe! I was just wondering, what is the serving size for the nutritional info?
Hi Ana and thanks. The serving would be one cookie, if your batch made 30 cookies.
What size of a cookie cutter do you recommend using?
Hi Andrea, my Dad makes them fairly small. If you like them smaller, somewhere around 2-inches is perfect. Enjoy :)
Hi there, thanks so much for the bake ahead recipe. Please let me know what size cutter, also my fridge is not big enough to chill before baking, will this be a problem. Thank.
Hi Valerie, the chilling before baking prevents the cookies from spreading as they bake. Do you have room in your freezer at all, as you could pop them in the freezer for less time. If not, I think I would do the first chilling of the dough longer (1 1/2-2 hours), so it’s really cold. Then roll and cut quickly and pop right into the oven.
Tell me about your cookie rolling cloth. Is it cotton or linen?
Hi Nancy, it’s cotton. It usually comes packaged with a stretchy sleeve for the rolling pin, such as this set – https://www.amazon.com/Unbleached-Cotton-Pastry-Cloth-Rolling/dp/B0000DE6A4/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=rolling+pin+cover+cloth&qid=1609252946&sr=8-4
Amazing Recipe !!! So simple & so much fun to make them ! Please thank your dad for the wonderful recipe ! I have also added vanilla for a little flavour too
Thank you !
So glad to hear, Ella and I will pass on to my Dad :) Thanks so much!