Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies

4.71 from 54 votes
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Delicious vanilla-flavored shortbread cookies made with only four ingredients! The perfect holiday cookie recipe to share with friends and family or give as a gift. Gluten-free flour can be easily substituted so everyone can enjoy it.

Looking for more holiday cookies? Try my hot chocolate chili cookie for a spicy surprise, crispy French palmier, or persimmon cookies for a seasonal flavor.

Delicious vanilla flavored shortbread cookies made with only four ingredients! The perfect holiday cookie recipe to share with friends and family or give as a gift.

December is a month-long celebration to honor the endless possibilities of the cookie. Pinwheels, snickerdoodles, peanut butter kisses, and gingerbread. I’m a big fan of simplicity, and shortbread cookies are one of my favorites during the holiday season. The buttery, crumbly texture that melts in your mouth is always a hit.

Some years ago, after an incredible experience dining at the French Laundry, they sent us home with a small silver box filled with rectangular-shaped shortbread cookies dusted with just a hint of sugar. They crumbled wonderfully with each bite, and they had just the right hint of sweetness. Needless to say, Chef Thomas Keller and his team created something amazing.

I was searching through my Ad Hoc at Home cookbook and found the recipe for those very same shortbread cookies, whoot! With only four ingredients, this is the easiest and best shortbread cookie recipe you will ever find.

What is the purpose of creaming?

Creaming takes place in a stand mixer which aerates the butter and sugar, allowing tiny pockets of air to be incorporated into the cookie dough. The air then acts as an insulator when baking to prevent the cookies from heating too rapidly and spreading. I prefer to use unsalted butter versus salted butter to control the amount of salt added to the recipe.

The result after baking is a beautiful and thick cookie that has a nice height and lift and holds its shape. During the creaming process, it’s best to use butter around 60°F (16ºC) so that the fat crystals can hold their shape and retain the air. If the butter is too warm, the cookie will become dense.

Flavor with vanilla

I’ve become obsessed with using vanilla bean paste since I tried it with my Danish butter cookies. The paste contains whole vanilla beans, and the speckles make the flavor pop and last longer with each bite. Using vanilla extract is okay. I love seeing the little flecks of real vanilla beans on the surface of each cookie.

Make the dough

Mixing shortbread cookie dough in a stand mixer.
Step 2. Fold in the flour

These buttery shortbread cookies contain only four simple ingredients: butter, sugar, flour, and vanilla. There are no chemical leavening agents like baking soda or baking powder. Add the flour and mix until the dough clumps up but doesn’t turn into a ball.

Chilling firms up the butter

Shortbread cookie dough formed into a square and ready to wrap in plastic to chill in the refrigerator.
Step 3. Chill the dough

Transfer the dough to a work surface. Gently knead the pieces of dough together. Press it into a rectangular shape, about 1/2-inch thick, then tightly wrap it in plastic. This will make it easier to roll out after chilling. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes. This firms up the butter fat to reduce cookie spread.

Ready to roll

Wooden rolling pin flattening cookie dough on a parchment paper lined surface.
Step 4. Roll out the dough

After chilling, let the dough sit at room temperature for about 5 to 10 minutes. It’s difficult to roll when the butter is too firm. The dough is ready to roll when the edges don’t excessively crack and is malleable. I find it easiest to roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper to prevent sticking. Roll it out to 1/4-inch for thick cookies.

Cut out the cookies

For large cookies, until a 2 ½” round fluted cookie cutter. This will yield about 30 cookies. If you’d like, lightly indent a design in the center, like a heart, flute, or star. Don’t push all the way through!

Transfer them to paper-lined baking sheets, leaving 1″ space between them. Chill for another 15 minutes, then sprinkle some granulated sugar before baking.

Bake time

Shortbread cookies with heart shaped designs in the centers.
Step 8. Let them cool

Bake the cookies at 350ºF (177ºC) for about 12 to 15 minutes. The cookies should be set on top and have a light brown color. You don’t want them to turn too brown, or they will be very crispy. Let them sit on the warm baking sheet for 5 minutes for gentle carry-over cooking. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the recipe gluten-free

I’ve made this shortbread cookie recipe countless times and even tested a gluten-free version. I used Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose 1:1 Baking Flour and noticed that the dough is less pliable and slightly more brittle as you roll it out. This is because there is no gluten in the recipe to develop and bind the ingredients together as it’s mixed.

The gluten-free cookie dough will still roll out nicely without cracking if you let it rest for a little while at room temperature after being chilled. Just be careful when transferring the cut-out cookies to the sheet pan. If you notice any cracks in the dough, wait a few more minutes until it feels more pliable yet cool.

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between a butter cookie and a shortbread cookie?

Both cookies contain a similar base; flour, sugar, butter, and vanilla. Butter cookies tend to have a higher ratio of sugar, making them sweeter and tender. They also contain eggs for leavening and binding, making the texture less crumbly compared to the shortbread texture.

Is butter or margarine better for shortbread?

Butter gives the best flavor to shortbread cookies. It has a creamy flavor with a hint of sweetness. Margarine is made from plant sources, which will have a more neutral taste.

What is the difference between English shortbread and Scottish shortbread?

English shortbread so not contain leaving agents, so the texture is more dense and crumbly. Scottish shortbread typically contains a leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder. This gives a lighter, crunchier cookie.

Sheet pan full of shortbread cookies with heart shapes stamped in the middle.

What is vanilla bean paste?

Vanilla bean paste is an excellent alternative to expensive whole vanilla beans. The paste combines vanilla extract and real vanilla seeds from the pod mixed with sugar, water, and tragacanth gum (a thickener). The concentrated flavors allow you to add more vanilla without thinning or diluting sauces and batters. Vanilla bean paste is a 1:1 replacement for vanilla extract. You can use one tablespoon of vanilla paste for one whole vanilla bean.

Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies

Delicious vanilla bean flavored shortbread cookies made with only four ingredients! The perfect holiday cookie recipe to share with friends and family.
4.71 from 54 votes
Prep Time1 hour
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 30 cookies
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to 60 to 65°F (16 to 18ºC)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, or pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, or gluten-free flour

Instructions 

  • Cream the Butter – In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix butter and sugar on low speed to combine, then increase to medium speed until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix in the vanilla.
  • Fold in Flour – On the lowest speed, mix in the flour to combine, then increase the speed to medium until the dough begins to cling to the paddle and no longer looks dry. Do not wait for it to form a solid mass.
  • Chill the Dough – Transfer the dough to a board and gently knead it together. Put the dough on a large piece of plastic wrap and shape it into a rectangle ½ to ¾" thick. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • Roll Out the Dough – Let the dough soften slightly, so it does not crack or break on the edges when rolling, for about 5 to 10 minutes. Roll out between two sheets of parchment paper to about ¼" thick.
  • Cut Out Shapes – Using a 2 ½" round fluted cookie cutter, cut out about 30 cookies and transfer them to two parchment paper lined sheet pans, leaving 1" space between cookies. Refrigerate for 15 minutes to allow the dough to chill before baking. Sprinkle the cookies with sugar.
    The remaining trimmings can be pressed together and re-rolled only once for additional cookies.
  • Preheat the Oven – Set the oven racks to the lower-middle and upper-middle position. Preheat to 350°F (177ºC).
  • Bake – Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, switching the position and rotating the sheets halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes on the sheet pan to firm the cookies up.
  • Let Them Cool – Transfer cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Make Ahead: This dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks; defrost frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Storing: Baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 10 days. Freeze for up to 2 months. 

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 30 cookies
Calories 118kcal (6%)Carbohydrates 16g (5%)Protein 2g (4%)Fat 5g (8%)Saturated Fat 3g (15%)Cholesterol 15mg (5%)Potassium 21mg (1%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 4g (4%)Vitamin A 200IU (4%)Iron 0.5mg (3%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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9 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Ashley says

    Served these at a tea party with honey sweetened cream and fresh Strawberries. Extremely popular. Sent everyone home with a small parcel of 5 cookies. A big hit. Will most certainly use this recipe again.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Ashley- Wow, that sounds like an amazing combo! I’m so glad you like these cookies, these are my favorite go to shortbread recipe and store very well! 🙂

          • Mary says

            I made two batches, a day apart. The second batch spread out a little more. They are still tasty, but loosing some definition on the edges and you can tell they spread out. Any thoughts? Butter was at similar temp for both batches.

          • Jessica Gavin says

            Hi Mary- If the butter was similar temperature, and you’re chilling it after the steps, perhaps did you cream the butter and sugar a bit more? Perhaps also check the oven temperature. Sometimes how you measured the flour can make a slight difference. Say, if you had a little less the next day?

  2. Natalie D says

    Thanks, great concept for a cookie! Unfortunately I found this recipe a bit too sweet. Maybe 1/3 cup sugar would be a better ratio. 1/4 is too little, I tried it in a another similar recipe. I’d love a more flour-y, crumblier version of this recipe. Think I’ll have to experiment!