Traditional Irish shortbread is buttery, crispy, and lightly sweetened cookie perfection. Simply made with Irish butter, flour, cornstarch, and sugar, this classic treat can be easily made for St Patrick’s Day, the holidays, or any time of year.
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What is Irish shortbread?
Rich and buttery, but not too sweet, Irish shortbread is a baked cookie (or biscuit, as the Irish say) that is made with minimal ingredients. The ingredients include butter, sugar, flour, and often cornstarch.
Shortbread has been around for ages. It’s no wonder, given how buttery and delicious it is! Original hailing from Scotland, the name has been connected to Mary, Queen of Scots, who loved this treat.
Back then, shortbread was made from leftover bread dough that was left to dry out and harden into biscuit bread.
The English brought shortbread to Ireland, while the Emerald Isle was part of the British Empire. Shortbread is an integral part of Irish cuisine today, and many different versions exist.
The traditional Irish shortbread recipe I’m sharing today is from my neighbor, Anne McNamara. It has been in her family for many years, and she was gracious enough to let me share it with you. Thank you, Anne!
What makes Irish shortbread so good?
Anne gave me a big box of shortbread cookies for our first Christmas in Ireland. I have always loved shortbread, but Anne’s shortbread was exceptionally delicious. Here’s what makes it so, so good:
- Taste + texture: Irish shortbread cookies are perfectly buttery, thick, and slightly crumbly. They are not too sweet and have a lovely, tender texture.
- Ease + time: The recipe is incredibly easy. You need only 4 ingredients, and no eggs, leavening agents, or chilling are necessary. You can enjoy this treat in less than an hour.
- Teatime favorite: This simple treat is ideal for a snack or dessert and tastes delicious alongside a cup of hot tea or a mug of coffee or hot chocolate.
- Holiday favorite: While Irish shortbread typically isn’t decorated, it provides a great base for frosted Christmas cookies. So have fun decorating with royal icing and sprinkles.
You’re going to love making Irish shortbread from scratch because it only requires a few simple ingredients. Please refer to the recipe card below for exact measurements.
- Irish butter: To make authentic Irish shortbread, you need Irish butter! It will take the flavor to the next level! You can learn more about Irish butter in the FAQ section at the end of the post. You also want to make sure your butter is softened to room temperature before adding it to your dough.
- Granulated sugar (caster sugar): Shortbread is mildly sweet, and white sugar adds just the right amount of sweetness.
- All-purpose flour (plain flour) makes up the base of the cookies.
- Cornstarch (cornflour) gives the shortbread a wonderfully light, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
With such a simple ingredient line-up, you can enjoy warm shortbread in less than an hour!
This Irish shortbread cookie recipe is straightforward, and the dough doesn’t need to chill. Let’s get baking!
#1: Mix dough
Using a wooden spoon or an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light, pale, and fluffy. Add the sifted flour and cornstarch and blend until the ingredients are combined and resemble coarse crumbs.
#2: Press dough into baking dish
Tip the dough mixture into an 8-inch square baking pan lined with parchment paper. Using floured hands, firmly press the mixture into a level, compact surface.
#3: Prick & score
Use a sharp, pointy knife to cut the dough into fingers. Pierce the surface with the tines of a fork to keep the shortbread level.
Bake in a preheated 300°F oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until a light golden color and the edges begin just to turn golden.
#5: Cool & cut
Remove the shortbread from the oven and sprinkle it liberally with sugar. Let the shortbread sit in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Then use a very sharp knife to re-slice the previous indents.
Carefully lift the shortbread out of the pan and let cool completely.
I have a few tips and tricks that will give you the best results. They ensure perfect Irish shortbread cookies every time!
- Soften the butter: Remember to let the butter soften to room temperature. Cold butter will not blend easily with the other ingredients, so leave it on the counter before baking.
- Avoid overworking the dough: Don’t handle the dough too much to keep the cookies light and crisp. Mix just until the ingredients are combined, and then press it directly into the prepared baking pan.
- Poke holes: To prevent the shortbread from puffing up in the oven, poke holes into the dough. Piercing holes allows the steam to escape and keeps the cookies dense and in shape.
- Watch the baking time: Bake the dough at a lower temperature until the shortbread is just set. The trick is to not let it turn golden brown.
- Make-ahead: You can prepare the dough 1 day ahead of time. Simply press it into the baking pan and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate and then bake the next day.
Another reason I love Irish shortbread is that you can get creative with the mix-ins. Everyone gets excited to try the different variations. Check out these ideas to get you started:
- Extracts: Flavor the dough with vanilla extract, almond extract, hazelnut extract, or other flavorings of your choice.
- Citrus zest: Try lemon or orange shortbread by adding freshly grated lemon or orange zest.
- Nuts: Add finely chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds, or pistachios to the dough.
- Chocolate chips: For chocolate chip shortbread cookies, add 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips to the dough.
- Fruit: Add 1/2 chop finely chopped dried cranberries, raisins, or dried blueberries for hints of fruity flavor.
- Fudge: Fudge and shortbread are meant for each other. Stir 1/2 cup finely chopped fudge into the dough crumbs before baking.
- Dip in chocolate: Dip the shortbread in melted chocolate after baking. Then let the chocolate firm up as it cools.
How to store Irish shortbread cookies
Store cooled Irish butter shortbread cookies in an airtight container. They will last for 7 days at room temperature or 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Freeze Irish butter cookies
Allow the shortbread to cool completely. Then wrap the cookies tightly with plastic wrap and then again in foil. Stash the foil-wrapped cookies in a large freezer bag or freezer-friendly container.
Irish shortbread will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw on the counter before serving.
American vs. Irish butter – what’s the difference?
Let’s talk about Irish butter, the key ingredient in this Irish shortbread cookies recipe! American butter and Irish butter are different in several ways.
- Higher butterfat percentage: Irish butter contains 82% to 85% butter fat as opposed to American butter’s 80%. The extra butterfat makes Irish butter incredibly creamy.
- Grass-fed cows: The milk for Irish butter is taken from grass-fed cows free of growth hormones. As a result, Irish butter tastes sweeter and has a richer shade of yellow because of the beta-carotene found in Ireland’s grass and plants.
- Churned longer: Irish butter is typically churned longer than its American counterpart.
- Cultured butter: Irish butter is often boosted with active bacterial cultures that give it a nuanced, slightly tangy note.
Where to buy Irish butter?
I recommend buying European butter for the best, most authentic flavor. My absolute favorite is Kerrygold Irish butter, which is widely available in the US. You can find Kerrygold at Walmart, Target, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, and Whole Foods Market.
Aldi offers Irish butter through their private brand, Countryside Creamery. Vermont Creamery offers a European-style cultured butter that would make a great choice too.
Can I make Irish shortbread with American butter?
Of course! If that is what you have, use American butter to make Irish shortbread cookies. They will still taste delicious and buttery.
Shortbread vs. sugar cookies – what’s the difference?
Irish shortbread cookies are not the same as sugar cookies. Sugar cookies are typically sweeter, lighter in texture, and require more ingredients than shortbread.
Shortbread cookies are dense and buttery, making them perfect for dipping into tea or hot cocoa. The shortbread dough is smooth and easy to work with. It doesn’t need to be chilled before baking and isn’t sticky.
Homemade cookies are so delicious and versatile. I love that you can create so many cookie flavors, and I can’t wait for you to try some of our other recipes!