This easy recipe for lemon shortbread cookies makes a dough that you can roll out and cutout with cookie cutters, or even stamp out to give them a pattern. They are brushed with a lemon glaze when warm for extra lemon flavour.
Shortbread ratio of ingredients
For this recipe, we are using the classic shortbread ratio of 1:2:3 by weight, so 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, and 3 parts flour, combined with lemon zest and lemon juice.
This is the same ratio I used for these lavender shortbread and it's the base for these easy lemon bars. However, instead of patting the dough in a pan to bake, you can roll out the shortbread to cut them with cookie cutters as done in the recipe below.
These lemon shortbread are made with granulated sugar. I like to use granulated sugar because I find it gives the shortbread a more crumbly, coarse texture. You could use icing sugar instead as a possible baking substitution, as in these jam-filled shortbread cookies. The icing sugar will make the cookies more tender and gives them a melt-in-your-mouth quality.
Rolled shortbread that don't spread
The trouble with shortbread is that they are high in fat and, sometimes, if the butter gets too warm, the cookies can spread in the oven.
To avoid cookies spreading too much in the oven, we chill the cookie dough before rolling out the dough and baking the cookies. Actually chilling the dough also makes the dough easier to roll out because when the butter is warm, the dough is particularly tender and prone to tearing and sticking to the work surface, even if it's floured.
You can also chill the cut-out cookies before baking to ensure that the cookie dough is cold before you pop the pan into the oven. I like to do all the rolling, stamping, and cutting at once, and get all the cookies onto a couple of cookie sheets to chill them all at once.
I preheat the oven while the cookies are chilling. Then when they are firm and the oven is preheated, I can transfer a few to another baking sheet, spacing them out to allow air to circulate between them and then I bake them. I find it's easier to batch the work of rolling, cutting, chilling, and baking.
Adding lemon flavour to cookies
Though the cookie dough is flavoured with both lemon zest and lemon juice, the lemon flavour is mild, though it smells quite citrusy as they bake.
It takes a lot of lemon juice to impart that acidity, and too much lemon juice would ruin the texture of the cookies. The extra liquid would also make the cookies spread as they bake in the oven, even if you chill the cookie dough.
The tart lemon flavour mostly comes from the glaze, made with lemon juice, icing sugar, and a little butter to round out the flavour. This is the same glaze used for these soft gingerbread cookies.
Using a cookie stamp (like these stamps from Nordic Ware on Amazon I used here), pressed on the surface of the cookies before baking, leads to lots of nooks and crannies so the cookies can hold more glaze. The dents give place where a little extra glaze can settle in without running off. Stamping is optional, but I love the effect it gives.
Of course, you don't have to glaze these cookies, but the lemon glaze really makes these cookies shine, both in flavour and in appearance. It's a little extra touch that is easy to do but makes them look even more special.
Lemon shortbread cookies
- 230 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter room temperature
- 100 grams (½ cup) granulated sugar
- 15 mL (1 tablespoon) finely grated lemon zest
- 2.5 mL (½ teaspoon) Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt (or up to 1 teaspoon fine kosher salt)
- 290 grams (2⅓ cups) bleached all-purpose flour
- 22.5 mL (1½ tablespoon) fresh lemon juice
- 125 grams (1 cup) icing sugar
- 30 mL (2 tablespoon) fresh lemon juice heated in the microwave so it's hot
- 28 grams (2 tablespoon) unsalted butter melted
- 1 pinch Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar lemon zest, and salt until it is smooth, light, and creamy.
- Add the flour and beat it in until the mixture turns into a sandy crumble. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture should come together into a uniform dough once you add the liquid.
- Divide the mixture in two and flatten each piece of dough into a disk. Wrap them in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 ºF.
- Working with one disk of dough at a time, on a lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to between ⅛–¼ inch. Stamp out as many cookies as possible, then cut with 3-inch cookie cutters.
- Transfer the cookies to a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving a 1 inch space between them. If the cookies are too soft, chill them before baking.
- Bake the cookies until the edges are just beginning to brown, about 13 to 15 minutes. Prepare the glaze while the cookies are baking.
- Let cool 5 minutes then brush generously with the glaze so that the glaze melts onto the cookies. Let cool completely. The glaze should harden.
- Repeat with the rest of the cookie dough, rerolling the scraps.
- To make the lemon-butter glaze while the cookies are in the oven, as the glaze needs to be brushed onto the cookies while they are still warm, sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. Add the melted butter, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Mix with a fork until you form a smooth glaze. The glaze will thicken slightly if it sits around, so stir through a little warm water if you need to—it should be the consistency of runny honey.