Lemon Shortbread Recipe

This morning my Aunt Kathy and I woke up early to make lemon shortbread. I’ve never made shortbread before, but it’s always been one of my favorite cookies. And I loved the idea of adding lemon zest to my aunt’s standard shortbread recipe.

When we dug out the recipe this morning, I saw that it’s made with brown sugar rather than white sugar. I wasn’t sure if I would like the combination of brown sugar and lemon in the shortbread, so we decided to do an experiment. We made two batches of shortbread, one with brown sugar and one with white sugar. We also used two different types of lemons to see which zest would impart the best flavor. To the brown sugar batch we added the zest of a meyer lemon and to the white sugar batch we added regular lemon zest.

The results of our experiment were this: we prefer regular lemon zest over meyer lemon zest in the cookies and we prefer lemon-flavored shortbread to be made with white sugar. However, I liked the flavor of the brown sugar shortbread so much that it will definitely become my standard non-lemon shortbread recipe.

Lemon Shortbread

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add lemon zest and blend well. By hand, stir in flour a little at a time. Dough will be crumbly, so dump it out onto a counter top or pastry board and work it together by hand until smooth. Pat or roll dough out into a rectangle that is about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into small squares, rectangles or diamonds (whichever you prefer). Arrange cookies on ungreased baking sheet (I use parchment paper for easy cleanup) and bake 20-25 minutes in a preheated 325 degree oven until the bottom edges are just starting to brown.

Here is the recipe for the Brown Sugar Shortbread.

The dough will be crumbly but just work it together by hand until it's somewhat smooth.

The dough will be crumbly, but just work it together by hand until it’s smooth and holds together.

We shaped the first batch into a circle, but ended up with some tiny funny shaped pieces (they turned out to be good 'sample' pieces). The rectangle worked better.

We shaped the first batch into a circle, but ended up with some tiny funny shaped pieces (they turned out to be good ‘sample’ pieces). Shaping the second batch into a rectangle worked better.

My aunt cut the first batch into diamonds but they ended up to be much larger than we planned.  We ended up cutting them in half and ended up with triangles instead!

My aunt cut the first batch into diamonds but they were larger than we planned. We ended up cutting them in half and turning them into smaller triangles instead!

We placed the triangles on a parchment lined sheet and ended up baking them for 25 minutes because they were rather thick.

We placed the triangles on a parchment lined sheet and ended up baking them for 25 minutes because they were rather thick.

For the second batch, I managed to shape the dough into a rectangle.

For the second batch, I managed to shape the dough into a rectangle.

I'm not good at cutting diamonds so I just cut the second batch of shortbread into simple squares. I need to practice before trying to cut any other shapes!

I’m not good at cutting diamonds so I just cut the second batch of shortbread into simple squares. I need to practice before trying to cut any other shapes!

The thinner squares baked for 20 minutes at 325 degrees.  We removed them when the bottom edges were just starting to color.

The thinner squares baked for 20 minutes at 325 degrees. We removed them when the bottom edges were just starting to color.

The cookies on the left were made with white sugar and the ones on the right were made with brown sugar. Both had lemon zest, but next time I won't add lemon zest to the brown sugar shortbread.

The cookies on the left were made with white sugar and the ones on the right were made with brown sugar. Both had lemon zest, but next time I won’t add lemon zest to the brown sugar shortbread.

Overall, we really enjoyed both types of shortbread.  But we decided we preferred regular lemon zest over meyer lemon zest and we preferred the brown sugar shortbread without any lemon zest at all.

Overall, we really enjoyed both types of shortbread. The light-colored ones had a delicate buttery lemon flavor while the brown sugar shortbread was richer and slightly more intense. I recommend trying them both!

Here is the recipe for Brown Sugar Shortbread.

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43 Comments
  1. Exena

    I’ve been meaning to try shortbread for a while now. The thought of lemon shortbread is making my mouth water – will definitely try it soon!

    7:15 pm  Nov 28th, 2008
  2. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    I often find shortbread too sweet for my taste, so adding the lemon zest would help to balance that flavor. I’m going to try it!

    7:58 pm  Nov 28th, 2008
  3. Corinne

    I have to say, this was SOOO good! I kept snacking on it all day!

    11:05 pm  Nov 28th, 2008
  4. Leaca

    This look and sound great. I am going to have to try these.

    12:48 am  Nov 29th, 2008
  5. Nicole

    These are wonderful pictures. Just want to say thank you for posting this. I love how inspiring your blog is. I am such a visual person. Thanks! I am going to try these with the kids!

    1:53 am  Nov 29th, 2008
  6. Chocolate Shavings

    Those look beautiful!

    3:29 pm  Nov 29th, 2008
  7. Fran

    Have never made shortbread cookies but now I will after seeing your photos. They look delicious. So glad I can go out back & pick my own lemon.

    9:49 am  Dec 2nd, 2008
  8. Gabi

    I see you are in a sweet mode, Nicole, given that the last 3 posts are DESERTS! This ia VERY tempting to me! Thanks for turning me on to this fabulous recipe!

    Gabi

    10:59 am  Dec 2nd, 2008
  9. susie mac

    Thanks for the lemon shortbread recipe! They look and sound absolutely yummy looking. I’m going to go pick a lemon off my mom’s tree tomorrow and make the recipe. Your photos are truly helpful.

    1:02 am  Dec 3rd, 2008
  10. Katherine

    I was wondering, since thinking of making the lemon ones for a yule party coming up, about how many of the small squares did it make?

    Most of the guests are college students so will probably have to make a few batches

    9:36 am  Dec 7th, 2008
  11. Nicole

    Katherine: Thanks for the question, I forgot to add the yield at the bottom of the recipe! For the small squares, we ended up with close to 5 dozen cookies (I had to look at the photo and count!).

    9:48 am  Dec 7th, 2008
  12. Jennifer

    I think I just found my new favorite recipe website.

    2:11 pm  Dec 7th, 2008
  13. sare

    Hi, I’m from Türkiye.Those shortbread in the picture look great.Today,I tried ,but ?t was difficult to make it smooth. ?t took time.They taste wonderful.Next time, I’ll make them with powdered sugar..Thank you for your recipe.

    7:40 am  Dec 14th, 2008
  14. Erika

    Thank you for inspiring me to make shortbread for the first time. I made the lemon ones, using a bit more lemon zest, and they are outstanding. My house smells incredible. My mother loves shortbread — I think I’ll make another batch and Fedex them to New York for her!

    4:43 pm  Dec 21st, 2008
  15. Alicia

    I have the lemon shortbread cookies in my oven right now, and they smell so amazing. I can’t wait for them to be done in a few minutes!

    5:18 pm  Jun 3rd, 2009
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  17. Jen

    What kind of butter is used… ?

    8:06 am  Jul 18th, 2009
  18. Nicole

    Jen: We used regular salted butter. You can use unsalted butter, but make sure to add about 1/4 teaspoon salt to the flour.

    8:37 am  Jul 18th, 2009
  19. Heather

    These are fabulous! I followed the White Sugar recipe and added a teaspoon of dried lavender buds to the sugar (pulverized together in a mini food processor). The lemon and lavender and perfect complements to each other and the shortbread is a big hit!!

    6:46 pm  Sep 25th, 2009
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  22. marie maguire

    Love these cookies! Was so excited to find them

    I’ve given you the Sunshine Blog Award @
    http://hollylaneantiques.blogspot.com/2010/02/welcomed-surprise.html

    You can pick it up anytime!

    8:53 pm  Feb 14th, 2010
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  25. Mediterranean Bean Soup / Rachel Pictor

    […] PS. Those of you who follow my tweets (@Pictors_Pen) will know I also made lemon shortbread yesterday. I found the recipe online and it worked really well. I added 1/2 a cup of ground almonds in place of some of the flour – I just can’t resist playing with recipes! Here’s the original. […]

    6:14 am  Jul 8th, 2010
  26. Amy

    These look amazing! and I love Heather’s idea about adding lavender.
    I’ll put this recipe away for mother’s day.

    10:17 pm  Sep 1st, 2010
  27. Gina

    i am a student and i study food and i have an asignment to get 10 shortbread recipes and i found this one and i have cooked it and it is the most delicous shortbread ever! ;p

    sorry if theres any spelling mistakes i have dislexia.

    7:57 am  Sep 22nd, 2010
  28. Vanessa

    I found myself suffering from a brutal shortbread craving yesterday, so I thought these might just do the trick, and I was absolutely right! I made part of a batch of each kind, and I loved them both! One change I made was to add just a pinch of cinnamon to the brown sugar shortbread, and it was delicious! I also made both batches with soft whole wheat flour and non-hydrogenated margarine in place of the butter. Thank you so much for the yummy recipe!

    8:40 am  Nov 7th, 2010
  29. Lady Jess

    WOW! Those look REALLY good! I am SO bookmarking this recipe! Thanks for sharing!

    4:22 pm  Nov 17th, 2010
  30. Rachel

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon your recipe. I made these with the white sugar and they were delicious! I added a lemon glaze to the top and they looked so very Martha-Stewart-ish in my glass cookie jar. Thanks!

    4:16 pm  Feb 23rd, 2011
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  32. Erica Fields

    I just finished baking this shortbread. I cut the recipe in half…adding an extra Tbsp. to the halved flour measurement…hope that makes sense. I also added a tsp. more juice, as I’m a freak for lemon. I baked these in two 8 1/2 inch round cake pans. and pricked them repeatedly so that they wouldn’t buckle. After removing from the oven (exactly 32 mins.), I let them rest for 5 mins., then using a pizza cutter, cut them into 12 wedge shapes. I let them rest another 15 mins., then removed to a cookie platter. They smell heavenly taste wonderful. I just finished a few with a cup of herbal tea. Shortbread is a good cookie to bake for people who have egg allergies.

    4:57 pm  Apr 28th, 2011
  33. Maruska

    Your pic is here, but not your name! cavoloverde.it/public/articoli/cibo/668-preparando-gli-shortbreads-all-irlandese.asp

    3:00 am  Aug 12th, 2011
  34. muppy

    Just popped some in the oven! thanks for the recipe :)

    2:19 am  Aug 15th, 2011
  35. muppy

    it was delicious!!

    8:05 pm  Sep 7th, 2011
  36. moriah

    i made these put dipped the bottoms in a lemon icing, it was delicious! Here is the icing recipe I used

    Makes About 1/2 Cup Lemon Icing
    Prep Time: 5 minutes
    Total Time: 5 minutes
    Ingredients:
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
    • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
    • 1 tbsp milk
    • 1 small drop food coloring, optional
    Preparation:
    Combine ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth.

    2:34 pm  Sep 17th, 2011
  37. LSP

    When I made this shortbread the first time, it turned out amazing! The only thing I changed was to mix the zest and sugar together with my fingers before creaming with the butter. Since then, I’ve found if you use ginger instead of lemon, or rosemary and a sprinkle of salt…. this recipe is awesome no matter what. Thanks!

    3:22 pm  Apr 6th, 2012
  38. lovin' cookin'

    My husband, Tim, loves lemon desserts and was craving a sweet late last night. This was a very easy recipe and the best short bread I’ve ever tasted. I usually bake Gluten Free. I used Pamela’s baking mix with white sugar, and of course, lemon zest. It was perfect and had a crumbly but slightly chewy, almost caramel-like flavor. I topped off my big cut squares and put a small sprinkling of sugar and a few grains of ground celtic sea salt on top. Sugar, butter, lemon and a touch of salt took care of that sweet tooth of Sir Timmy. Next time I’m gong to add that 1/4 tsp salt to the recipe and compare the brown sugar recipe with the one I tried last night. My stock is dwindling due to four that hitched a ride in someone’s packed lunch today… I wonder who that could be?

    8:50 am  Aug 31st, 2012
  39. cheryl

    easy recipe, not too sweet – tried it with Oliveena margarine and still good consistency – Purrfect for middle of nite baking!

    2:57 am  Oct 12th, 2012
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