Shortbread sugar cookies

August 11, 2010 § 3 Comments

A few weeks ago I was attempting the first iterations of the experiment that became these shortbread sugar cookies, and I have to admit that they were so disastrous I nearly scrapped the idea entirely. Every time I attempted to make shortbread, something kept going wrong: batch after batch each had a new problem: burnt, raw in the middle, or both. The last batch before my month-long shortbread hiatus even managed to bubble over and spill onto the bottom of my oven. When I found myself scowling at my oven every time I walked by, I decided it was time for a break.

When I got back from my trip home, I decided to switch to making shortbread rounds, in an attempt to bake the shortbread more evenly, thereby eliminating the raw center. Then, I settled on a temperature much lower than I originally thought I needed, followed by fastidiously tweaking flour quantities. I figured adjusting the amount of flour is easier than with butter. Then, I baked a batch using brown sugar because I was running low on regular sugar; even though it’s not traditional I think it makes the shortbread a bit moister and less sand-like in texture. Most importantly though, it tastes better too – I can’t be the only one who sometimes sneaks a clump of brown sugar when baking!

The finishing touch is a generous sprinkling of demerera (also known as raw or turbinado) sugar, because I love  how pretty the oversized crystals are. While this recipe may not be exactly as I initially planned, I think this new twist on two favorite treats is fun, and still quick to make from pantry ingredients.

First, mix together a half cup of brown sugar, a pinch of kosher salt, two sticks unsalted butter (that’s one cup), and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. It’s much easier to stir, by the way, if the butter’s at room temperature, or pretty close.

Also, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the butter mixture is nice and smooth, add in two cups and three tablespoons of all-purpose flour.

Mix it all together just until crumbly.

Then, make balls of dough and gently press on them to make rounds. I recommend lining the cookie sheets with parchment paper to make cleanup easier, just in case the demerara sugar tries to adhere or something.

Don’t flatten too much, because after sprinkling on the demerara sugar (I estimate I use a bit less than a half cup for one batch), gently press in the demerara sugar so it kind of adheres to the surface.

I found that I could fit five rows of four cookies each (or four rows of five cookies each, I suppose) on one cookie sheet, which is nice because it means only two cookie sheets are needed, and therefore these can be baked in one batch in my tiny oven.

Bake for fourteen to sixteen minutes. If you’re baking on two oven racks, like I did, swap the cookie sheets about halfway through the baking time. The cookies will be a pale golden brown when they’re ready. I’ve found that by opening the oven, some cooler air gets in, so you may have to bake until sixteen minutes (or, possibly short or longer, ovens can be finicky!).

Let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, and then transfer to a rack. If you baked on parchment paper, you can also just slide off the parchment paper onto a countertop and cool them that way, or let them cool a bit longer on the cookie sheet and transfer to a plate. I know that’s not recommended for cookies, but since I don’t own cookie racks, it seems to work. At least, no one has ever turned down seconds on my cookies!

Shortbread sugar cookies

Makes about forty cookies


  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • A pinch of kosher salt
  • Two sticks unsalted butter (one cup), preferably room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Two cups plus three tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • About 1/2 cup of demerara sugar, for sprinkling

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together brown sugar, kosher salt, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Mix in flour until dough is crumbly.

2. Form balls of dough and gently press on them to make rounds, and place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and press again on the cookie tops to make the sugar sink in, flattening the cookie.

3. Bake for fourteen to sixteen minutes, rotating halfway through if baked on separate racks, or until cookies are pale golden brown.

4. Let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.


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