A twist on our very popular lemon shortbread recipe, this 5-ingredient recipe makes a more delicate, crisp cookie with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and subtle lemon flavor. Each one is drizzled with a zesty powdered sugar glaze. The unbaked dough can be frozen for a month and it keeps well for a week or more after they're baked.
Shortbread is the magical result of mixing 3 ingredients: sugar, butter, and flour. It's versatile and can be used for so many recipes, especially bars that need a sturdy base, like the honey walnut squares.
Considering the few ingredients that are needed, it accepts many variations, especially when it comes to flavors.
About this recipe
Today we're transforming it into cookies that are sweet, buttery, and will snap when you bite them.
- Flavor: these are buttery cookies for lemon lovers, because citrus is perfect to counteract the amount of butter and sugar these easy lemon shortbread cookies have.
- Lemon glaze: it comes together in 2 minutes and adds another layer of tangy but sweet lemon flavor that enhances the whole cookie.
- Make ahead: it's a great recipe for the holidays and celebrations because it can be made ahead and frozen for a month. And the baked lemon cookies last a week in an airtight tin.
- Lemon: fresh lemon juice and freshly grated lemon zest are key to the flavor of these lemon cookies.
- Unsalted butter: being a buttery cookie, a good brand makes a difference in flavor.
- Powdered sugar: also called confectioners' sugar, it's key for that delicate, melting quality. Don't use regular, granulated sugar.
- Flour: all-purpose flour works very well, but you can also use cake flour which is more refined.
- Salt: I always use kosher salt. It brings out the rest of the flavors.
You can use a bowl and a spatula as I do, handheld electric beaters, or use a stand mixer, which I only recommend if you want to make a large amount.
Mixing the dough
- Soft butter: it's important to have it at the right temperature so it mixes well with the rest of the ingredients. Soft or room temperature does not mean melted or almost melted. The butter should be soft but rather cool (image 1) and not too shiny on the brink of melting.
- Creaming: make sure the butter and sugar are well integrated. To achieve this more easily, sift the confectioners' sugar before adding it so you remove any lumps that may have formed. If using a spatula, you'll have to push or scrape both ingredients (image 2) until it's all well incorporated and no sugar spots remain.
- Add flavorings: both lemon juice and lemon zest are added to the butter mixture (image 3) to give it as much lemon flavor as you want. If you want a deeper flavor, use some pure lemon extract, maybe ¼ teaspoon, in addition to the fresh lemon.
- Adding the flour: again, it's important to integrate all the ingredients well. But also, it's important that you don't overbeat or overwork the dough. That's why I like to make it by hand (image 4), because there's little chance of overworking it. If using an electric mixer use the lowest speed when incorporating the flour.
- Resting: after the dough has come together and no dry spots remain (image 5), wrap it in plastic wrap or use freezer sheets like I do (image 6), and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.
Rolling and cutting
- Cold dough: always start with a cold dough and a lightly floured surface (image 7).
- Extra flour: only sprinkle a little if needed. It's a soft dough that shouldn't stick to the working surface and is easy to roll (image 8).
How thick should you roll the cookie dough? I recommend around ¼ inch, no more than that.
What shape can you make? I tend to use cookie cutters that are simple geometric forms (circles or rectangles) or that have a flower pattern (image below). In theory, you can use any cookie cutter, though I never tried very intricate ones.
Cold dough: if you took too long to roll and cut and the dough lost too much temperature, or you have something else in the oven, put the baking sheet in the refrigerator while you wait. Cold shortbread cookies into a preheated oven, that's what you want to do.
Parchment paper: I tend to simply butter the metal cookie sheet (image below) rather than use parchment paper. But you can.
Oven temperature: it's very important that you bake them at the temperature stated in the instructions, which is a tad lower than regular cookies. It will give you the best results.
Keep an eye on them: they bake quickly so don't put them in the oven and go do something else without setting a timer. Mine usually take no more than 10 minutes and tend to be lightly colored, especially around the edges (image below).
Powdered sugar glaze
It's our favorite glaze (or icing) when we want a simple recipe. It's super versatile and goes well with so many cakes, muffins, cookies. Can't go wrong with it!
- Only 2 ingredients: powdered sugar and a liquid, which can be juice (lemon, orange, apple, cranberry), milk, cream, a liqueur, crushed berries, even olive oil.
- Lemon glaze: we use lemon juice, of course, because we're making lemon cookies and it will give them an extra citrus boost.
- How thin or thick should it be? For these cookies, we like a thin drizzle of glaze that will drip after it's poured (image below) and will create a rather thin coating. We want the cookies to shine and not be smothered by too much sweetness.
- Lemon zest: a grating of some fresh zest white le glaze is still wet will add more flavor and is visually appealing.
- Organization: always read the recipe first and make sure you have all the ingredients, at the right temperatures, and also the rest of the equipment and space to make it. This will make the process so much easier!
- Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look the same or very similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. You can use a thermometer that is placed inside the oven (like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that your oven is at the right temperature. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
- Refrigeration time: it's essential that you refrigerate the dough for 1 hour (at least) before rolling and baking. It will help the cookies keep their shape and achieve that 'short' quality that will make them snap when you bite them.
- Large batch: you can easily double or triple this recipe. Divide in two pieces (or three if making a lot of cookie dough) so you roll it a piece at a time and don't worry about it loosing temperature.
- Freezing: it keeps well frozen for a month. Maybe more. Always well wrapped. Check out our Freezer Baking guide for more tips.
- Flavorings: you can take this basic shortbread cookie recipe and flavor it with another citrus like orange or lime, add some spices (ground cinnamon or cardamom), or a tablespoon of your favorite liqueur.
- Glaze: we love a simple glaze with lemon juice, but you can also dip them in a chocolate glaze for a completely different flavor combination.
Frequently asked questions
The main difference is in the amount of each ingredient. Shortbread tends to have less sugar in relation to butter, while sugar cookies tend to have more sugar and most times include an egg. Also, while shortbread uses granulated sugar (as do sugar cookies), shortbread cookies are usually made with powdered sugar.
It's important to cream the butter and sugar well, chill the dough thoroughly before rolling, and bake them at a medium/low temperature. I like to set the oven at 325°F and usually make the dough the day before so I know it will have more than enough refrigeration time.
You might have overworked the dough resulting in a tough cookie, the dough might be too thick so it doesn't bake properly, or the oven might be too high and colors the top of the cookie before the inside has time to dry out. Always follow instructions and organize yourself when you bake. It's all about the little details, like the temperature of the ingredients, resting time, etc.
Let baked shortbread cool completely on a wire rack, and keep in a metal tin (first choice) or glass jar with tight-fitting lids, or in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Also, don't store them together with other chewy cookies or in a plastic container at room temperature.
Related recipes you might like:
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For the cookies:
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (cake flour also works)
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
For the glaze:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
- Extra lemon zest, to decorate
- Use a bowl and spatula, an electric beater, or a stand mixer. If using the last two, make sure you beat at the lowest speed.
For the cookies:
- Mix soft butter with powdered sugar in a large bowl.
- Add the grated zest and lemon juice. Mix well.
- Add the flour and salt. Do it in 2 parts, partially mixing the first before adding the second part. This will help integrate everything better.
- Don’t over mix at this point. We don’t want to overwork the dough after the flour is added as it will make the cookies tough.
- The final cookie dough is soft, pliable, and smooth.
- Wrap in plastic wrap or freezer sheets and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.
- Preheat the oven at 350°F/180°C.
- Have ready a buttered baking sheet. Or line it with parchment paper.
- Roll the cold dough on a lightly floured surface. If too cold, wait 15 minutes and see how it goes. Don’t let it come to room temperature or anything like it; it should be cold but able to be rolled.
- As you roll, make ¼ turns and make sure it’s not sticking to the surface. You can also turn it over once during rolling.
- Roll it between ⅛ and ¼ inch thick.
- Cut shapes with your chosen cookie cutter or cutters and place on the prepared cookie sheet leaving an inch or so between them.
- Bake cookies for 10 minutes, turning the sheet front to back at mid baking.
- Watch closely after 6-7 minutes as these cookies bake quickly. They should be dry and barely colored.
- Let cool completely on a wire cooling rack before glazing.
For the glaze:
- Mix the powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice until well mixed.
- Keep adding lemon juice until it's thin as maple syrup and completely smooth.
- Put the cookies on a wire rack on a clean surface, like the kitchen counter.
- Drizzle the glaze over the cookies and let them drip down. You can collect the drips before they dry and use them again.
- Sprinkle with some lemon zest if you want, let the glaze dry, and eat.
- Baked cookies, before glazing, keep in a metal tin or tight cookie jar for a week or more.
Organization: always read the recipe first and make sure you have all the ingredients, at the right temperatures, and also the rest of the equipment and space to make it. This will make the process so much easier!
Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look the same or very similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. You can use a thermometer that is placed inside the oven (like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that your oven is at the right temperature. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
Lemon flavor: it takes quite a lot of zest and juice to make the lemon flavor shine. You can also add some pure lemon extract to the cookie dough or to the glaze for an extra boost.
Vanilla extract: I decided not to use it so you could taste the lemon more. But you can add a few drops of pure vanilla extract or paste, ¼ teaspoon or so.
Refrigeration time: it's essential that you refrigerate the dough for 1 hour (at least) before rolling and baking. It will help the cookies keep their shape and achieve that 'short' quality that will make them snap when you bite them.
Large batch: you can easily double or triple this recipe. Divide into two pieces (or three if making a lot of cookie dough) so you roll it a piece at a time and don't worry about it losing temperature.
Freezing: it keeps well frozen for a month. Maybe more. Always well wrapped. Check out our Freezer Baking guide with more tips.
Flavorings: you can take this basic shortbread cookie recipe and flavor it with another citrus like orange or lime, add some spices (ground cinnamon or cardamom), or a tablespoon of your favorite liqueur.
Glaze: we love a simple glaze with lemon juice, but you can also dip them in a chocolate glaze for a completely different flavor combination.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Refrigeration time: 60 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Category: Cookies
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: International
- Serving Size: 1/24
- Calories: 87
- Sugar: 7.4 g
- Sodium: 25.1 mg
- Fat: 3.9 g
- Carbohydrates: 12.7 g
- Protein: 0.7 g
- Cholesterol: 10.2 mg
Keywords: lemon shortbread cookies