The Perfect Shortbread Cookie
In essence, a simple shortbread cookie dough consists of a lot of butter, a little sugar, and some flour. Basically, just three ingredients.
The method is simple: cream butter and sugar, stir flour in, chill the dough, roll out, bake, eat.
Traditionally, you roll out the dough, poke the top and bake it in one big piece, and only slice it after baked.
I like to shape my shortbread into cute stars, flowers, circles or whatever I’m in the mood for, before baking.
As for the texture, shortbread is supposed to be a crumbly cookie, the kind you eat with milk, coffee or tea. It’s meant to be a flaky, delicate and light little treat. Each bite melts in your mouth, taking you to a sweet and buttery heaven.
In addition, you can add flavorings to your shortbread cookie dough. That could be ground nuts, citrus zests, chopped dried fruits, extracts, or a touch of fruit juices.
What makes the perfect Shortbread Cookie?
I have a few tips for you that can help you with your cookie baking in general. Grab a pad and a pen, write some of this down because these could be game changer tips!
Chill the dough
As with most cookies with a butter base, it’s very important to keep in mind that if you put your dough in the oven while the butter is soft, your cookie will not have a pretty shape, or a beautifully layered texture.
And that’s because the butter will immediately start to melt as it enters the oven.
Always, I repeat, ALWAYS chill your dough, before shaping, as well as the already shaped or scooped cookies before baking them!
And I mean all cookies when I say this. It doesn’t matter if they are chocolate chip, peanut butter or simple sugar cookies! Please, chill your dough!
Specially with the shortbread cookie, which has a high content of butter, you want to get the dough completely cold before proceeding with shaping and rolling out. And then, you want to chill the shaped cookies again before baking.
Trust me on this extra step and you will never ever have misshaped ugly cookies in your life anymore. And let’s face it, who needs misshaped ugly cookies?
Don’t overmix the dough
Do not ever, under any circumstance, overmix the dough once you add the flour.
Overmixing the dough after that step will make your final product a dry and tough cookie, because of the gluten structure.
Gluten is a protein that forms once you hydrate wheat flour. The more you mix the dough after adding the flour, the more gluten you will develop.
Gluten is stretchy, strong and very necessary to provide structure to your baked goods, but for each different type of baked good, you want a different level of gluten development.
For instance, you want your bread to have a strong gluten structure and you want your cookies or biscuits to have a flaky and soft texture. And that’s why you knead bread for several minutes, to work that gluten formation. And that’s also why you avoid to overmix the flour in pies and cookie doughs, cake batters and such, because you want that structure to be light and soft.
Poke the top
If you are baking your shortbread dough as a whole (without cutting it or shaping into individual cookies) or if you have shaped large cookies, you want to poke the top of the dough with a fork before entering the oven.
In the case of these Orange Pistachio ones, I have made them into small 2 inch stars, so it’s not necessary to do the poking method. But for larger cookies, you definitely want to do it, because once they bake, air bubbles will form under the surface and if they don’t have an outlet to be released, they will expand and deform your cookies.
Sift the flour
And my last tip, and something I do with pretty much anything I bake that I want to obtain a soft and flaky final product: I always and forever sift the flour when making shortbread cookies.
Sifting makes the flour finer and easier to incorporate with the other ingredients, reducing mixing time.
It also avoids big lumps from being formed and spoiling the smooth structure of the dough.
Sifting flour helps in obtaining a finer and more delicate crumb. That’s also why you sift the flour before making cake batter.
Though, if I’m going to be honest, for some stuff I simply whisk the flour with a wire whisk. For biscuits, pie crusts, puff pastry dough and most cookies I simply whisk the flour. While for cakes and delicate cookies, I sift it.
Bake at a lower temperature
Baking time and temperature. Some say to bake your shortbread at a low temperature and remove from the oven before it gets golden. Just underbaked.
The truth is: if your cookie looks done in the oven, it’s probably already overbaked.
Overbaking cookies or baking at a very high temperature will usually result in hard and tough cookies.
Cookies bake fast and continue to bake after you remove them from the oven. That’s why you pull them out just before they are done. Like I said, just underbaked, because they will settle into the perfect structure!
And I mean this for most cookies I know. For this specific Orange and Pistachio Shortbread Cookies, I like to bake them until the middle is a light blonde color and the outsides are almost beginning to get golden.
I really hope these tips are valuable for someone out there. If you want to improve your baking skills, you have to start looking at the reason why things happen the way they do. You want to educate yourself on the role of each ingredient and why you should or shouldn’t take certain steps. It’s part of becoming a good baker and being able to manipulate your final results to your best interest.
These would look beautiful in a cookie box that you would gift to a deserving lucky friend. Also check out these Dulce de Leche filled Snickerdoodle cookies and these Cherry Jam Cookies with Chocolate Glaze to make your box even more special.
Orange and Pistachio Shortbread Cookies
- 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar sifted
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup ground pistachio
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour sifted
- 2-4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chopped
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter for about 2 minutes on medium speed. Add sifted powdered sugar to the butter one tablespoon at a time. Cream mixture for 2-3 minutes, until fluffy and lightened in color.
Add vanilla and mix until incorporated.
Add ground pistachios and mix on medium speed until incorporated. Don’t forget to scrape your bowl at every step to make sure everything is getting incorporated.
Add orange juice and orange zest to the bowl and mix. Add all-purpose flour and salt and stir with a spatula or on the lowest speed of your mixer for about 30 seconds just until the flour is incorporated.
Your dough will be very wet and that’s ok. I pat it into a disk and lightly sprinkle powdered sugar on both sides and wrap it in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate for 2-4 hours or overnight. This is a very important step. Leave dough in the fridge until it’s been entirely chilled. Check by poking the middle of the dough. If it’s soft, means the dough has to rest longer.
Remove dough from the fridge and divide into 2 parts. Keep the part you are not working with in the fridge, covered with the plastic wrap.
Roll the other half on a floured counter until it’s 1/4” thick. Dough might be very hard at first. Give it a couple of minutes to soften up slightly.
Cut into rounds, stars, or rectangles, whatever shape you want to work with. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or with a silicon mat.
Place tray in the freezer while you pre-heat your oven.
This step is also important because when you roll out the dough, the butter softens up. You want the butter to be very cold and solid before entering the oven. This helps your cookie retain a better shape and structure because the butter won’t start melting immediately.
Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
Bake trays anywhere from 10-20 minutes. It depends on the size of the cookies you are making. Speaking about size, if your cookies are very large, say, over 1 1/2 inches long or wide, you want to lightly poke the top of the cookies with a fork before inserting in the oven. If you don’t do that, air bubbles will form and change the shape of the cookies.
Remove cookies from the oven once center is lightly blonde and outsides are lightly golden. That's the perfect balance for looks and texture! Don’t overbake your Shortbread cookies or they will be tough.
Once cookies are cooled, melt chocolate over a double boiler. Dunk one end of each cookie in melted chocolate and scrape excess with a small spatula. Sprinkle powdered pistachio over chocolate and let it dry on a wire rack.