I bake often throughout the year and tend to go into overdrive during the holiday season. I have my repertoire of favorites that I've made for many years, which includes peppermint bark, krumkake, Italian almond sweets, macaroons and chocolate crinkles. Over the years I've added new favorites like Belgian lukken cookies, sun brittle and toffee.

I searched for several years to find a reliable recipe for Buttery Shortbread Cookies, and last year, thanks to the Joy of Baking website, I finally found it. I have made them many times over the past year and always receive rave reviews. With their perfectly buttery flavor and signature crumbly texture, these cookies are melt-in-your mouth delicious.

The Joy of Baking website is hosted by a woman named Stephanie Jaworski and home to a giant library of how-to baking videos. If you are new to baking or have never made shortbread before, I highly recommend visiting her site and watching the video, as Stephanie takes you step-by-step through this and every recipe featured. She is marvelous.

In her recipe, Stephanie recommends dipping each cookie in melted chocolate, which is a great flavor to match this buttery cookie. But I have always preferred them with a simple icing made of powdered sugar, fresh lemon juice, and a puree of mashed raspberries. Cookie trays are so often full of brown and tan goodies, and the natural pink coloring from the raspberries brings a delightful pop of color.

With only five ingredients, this is a fairly simple recipe. In addition to flour, unsalted butter, powdered sugar, salt and pure vanilla extract, you will also need a rolling pin on hand to roll out the dough. A stand or handheld mixer is best to make the dough, but you could also mix it by hand if you have the fortitude and a good wooden spoon (shortbread dough is thick and stiff).

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There are a couple key tips when making shortbread that will help ensure success.

It is important that the butter be at room temperature before using, as this helps prevent overmixing the batter. These cookies are meant to crumble the moment they enter your mouth, and their texture may be compromised if the batter is overworked. Follow the timelines given in the recipe for best results.

Also, the quality of your ingredients will play a big role in the final outcome, so be sure to use a good-quality unsalted butter and pure vanilla extract whenever possible. If you already have salted butter on hand, just skip the amount of salt listed in the recipe.

These cookies freeze wonderfully, and I like to use a neutral cookie cutter so that I can bring them out for any occasion. I find that simple shapes, like a heart, square or circle, work better with this dough than more complicated ones like stars or snowflakes.

Oven temperatures can vary, so start checking the cookies after six minutes to ensure that they don't overbrown. Shortbread is one of those specialties that gets easier to make the more you do it, as you begin to get a feel for the dough. Even if this your first time, making two batches of shortbread, one right after the other, will give you a pretty good feel for this recipe and how to handle the dough.

Even for a novice baker, these buttery shortbread cookies are easy to make and always a crowd pleaser. Your kitchen will smell divine as they bake, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Buttery Shortbread Cookies with Raspberry Lemon Icing

Lightly adapted from a recipe featured on The Joy of Baking website at www.thejoyofbaking.com

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Icing:

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

4 to 5 raspberries, mashed into a puree

Directions:

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour with the salt; set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the butter, at medium speed, until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat, at medium speed, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract until combined.

Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and flatten into a disk, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour or even overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with the rack placed in the center position.

On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a ¼-inch thick circle (this doesn't have to be perfectly round), turning frequently to prevent the dough from sticking. If dough should stick, sparingly add just a bit of flour to the rolling pin and/or work surface.

Use a cookie cutter to cut into desired shape, then place each cookie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Gently form the remaining dough into a ball and roll it out again until ¼-inch thick, then cut into cookies.

To prevent the cookies from spreading as they bake, chill the cut cookies in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before baking.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, until cookies are very lightly browned on the edges. Remove from oven and let cookies sit for one minute on the tray before transferring to a wire cooling rack. Cool completely before icing.

When adding the icing, I prefer to leave part of the cookie bare so that it is easy to pick up and enjoy. Dip just one half, the bottom or the top of each cookie in the icing and place on a wire rack to dry.

To store:

Store in an airtight container for up to one week, or in the freezer (without icing) for up to 2 months. Metal tins work best, as plastic can cause the shortbread to soften.

For the Icing: In a medium bowl, mix the powdered sugar with the lemon juice until well combined. Add a spoonful of the raspberry puree and stir until incorporated. Taste and adjust flavorings as desired. For a deeper pink, add more raspberry puree; for lighter, add more powdered sugar. If the icing is too thick, add more lemon juice, or water (depending on taste), one teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. Refrigerate for up to 3 days; stir before using and add more liquid if necessary.

Sarah's Tips:

  • Use a good-quality, unsalted butter, but if using salted butter, skip the amount of salt included in the recipe.
  • For best results, always use room temperature butter.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

All previous recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.