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Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Lemon shortbread cookies are an easy slice-and-bake cookie recipe that is guaranteed to become a new holiday favorite! They have a wonderfully buttery, tender texture and bright citrus flavor thanks to plenty of lemon zest. Simple to make with just 4 ingredients!

glazed lemon shortbread cookies on a cooling rack.

The best lemon shortbread cookies

This lemon shortbread recipe is amazing! The cookies are rich and buttery, with just the right balance between crispy and melt-in-your-mouth. And the lemon flavor is simply heavenly!

The base of these cookies is similar to my Irish shortbread recipe and lavender shortbread cookies.

To make lemon the star of the show, we’re using lemons in two ways: For starters, there’s plenty of lemon zest in the shortbread dough.

Then we top each cookie with a thick lemon glaze and an extra sprinkle of lemon zest! The icing makes the cookies extra scrumptious.

If you love buttery shortbread and lemony treats, these easy lemon shortbread cookies must go on your baking list asap. The recipe comes together quickly with minimal ingredients.

And for more lemon desserts, try our creamy lemon squares, condensed milk lemon pie, and lemon chocolate chip cookies.

♥ Reasons to love lemon shortbread

  • Basic ingredients: Fresh lemons and a handful of pantry staples are all you need to pull this easy recipe together.
  • Simple to make: The dough takes only 15 minutes to prepare. And after a short time in the freezer, you can bake the cookies in about 10 minutes.
  • Incredible taste + texture: The simple combination of butter, sugar, and flour bakes into soft, crumbly cookies that melt in your mouth.
  • Great for afternoon tea: Lemon shortbread is perfect to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.
  • Yummy gift: Share the goodness and turn the cookies into gifts. They travel well and the recipient will appreciate them!

Ingredients

You’ll only need 4 ingredients for the cookies and 2 for the glaze. And I bet you already have all of these items in your pantry. Scroll down to the recipe card below to see the exact measurements.

Cookies

  • Butter: I prefer salted butter, but unsalted butter (with a pinch of salt to balance the sweetness) is fine too. Either way, make sure the butter is slightly softened by taking it out of the fridge 20 to 30 minutes before you start.
  • All-purpose flour is perfect here. Be sure to measure the flour carefully because too much will lead to dry shortbread. Weigh out it with a digital kitchen scale or employ the spoon and level method (spoon the flour lightly into your measuring cup, then swipe off the top).
  • Granulated sugar makes the shortbread nice and sweet.
  • Lemon zest: Adding plenty of lemon zest will create a fresh lemon aroma and lovely specks of yellow throughout the dough. I recommend organic, un-waxed lemons. 1 lemon will create a mellow citrus aroma, and 2 lemons will give you a bold lemon flavor.

Lemon glaze

  • Powdered sugar: You need 1 cup of powdered sugar for a sweet, smooth icing.
  • Lemon juice: 2 to 3 teaspoons of lemon juice gives the icing the perfect constancy while adding a lovely lemon layer.
  • Lemon zest: I like to sprinkle my shortbread rounds with additional lemon zest, but that is optional.
How to zest lemons
  1. A microplane or the small holes of a cheese grater work great to zest lemons.
  2. Hold your lemon in one hand and the Microplane / cheese grater in the other hand.
  3. Move the lemon back and forth over the grates, rotating the fruit as you go. Please watch your fingers – the Microplane is sharp!
  4. Continue zesting until the yellow peel is removed. Be careful not to add any of the white pith. It tastes bitter, and we don’t want that in our lemon shortbread cookies.
citrus shortbread cookies on a plate.

Variations

My lemon shortbread cookies are a great starting point for delicious customization. Play with the flavor and try these ideas:

  • White chocolate lemon shortbread: White chocolate and lemons are a tasty pairing. Dip each cookie in melted white chocolate after baking.
  • Orange shortbread: Replace the lemon zest with orange zest and prepare the glaze with orange juice.
  • Lemon rose shortbread: Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of rosewater to the cookies and add rose water to the glaze.
  • Lemon thyme shortbread: A 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves are an excellent addition to this shortbread. Basil and rosemary also taste lovely.

How to make lemon shortbread cookies

Honestly, citrus shortbread cookies couldn’t be easier to make – and they’ll be a hit with your family and friends! I really hope you love them as much as we do.

#1: Cream sugar and butter

  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, for about two minutes.

#2: Add flour and lemon zest

  • Sift the flour into the bowl. Add the lemon zest and whisk until crumbly.
  • Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of ice-cold water and knead until just combined. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
  • If the dough seems too sticky, add 1 tbsp flour at a time until it starts to come together.

#3: Shape & chill the dough

  • Place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap/cling film or wax paper. Shape the dough into a log about 2 inch in diameter and 8 inch long.
  • Wrap the log in plastic wrap/cling film and put it into the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

#4: Cut cookies

  • Cut cookie rounds. Using a sharp knife, slice thin rounds of the log and place them on the baking tray, spacing the cookies 2 in apart.

#5: Bake

  • Preheat the oven. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 325°F.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Watch the cookies closely while baking, so they don’t overbake. It’s okay if the cookies seem soft and underbaked. They will continue to cook as they cool.

#6: Cool & glaze

  • Let cookies cool on the cookie sheet until they are set enough to be handled. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  • Whisk the powdered sugar and lemon juice in a small mixing bowl until smooth. Spoon over the cooled cookies.
stack of lemon shortbread on a white plate.

Baker’s tips

  • Use quality butter: The flavor of the butter makes or breaks lemon shortbread cookies. So get the good stuff!
  • Measure the flour correctly: Too much flour will make the dough dry and crumbly instead of soft and buttery. I recommend weighing the flour with a kitchen scale or using the scoop and swipe method.
  • Fix dry dough: If the dough seems too dry or won’t stick together, add in a little more butter (1/2 to 1 tablespoon at a time).
  • Zest the lemon directly into the mixing bowl with your butter, sugar, and flour. The lemon peel contains the highly aromatic essential oils you want in your shortbread. You can also rub the zested lemon with a little sugar to catch more precious lemon oils.
  • Chill the dough: This will make the dough less sticky and easy to slice.
  • Watch the baking time: Shortbread is delicate and soft, so we don’t want to overbake it. The cookies are ready when the edges are lightly golden and the center looks set.
  • Let cool completely before decorating: Wait for the shortbread to completely cool before drizzling with lemon icing. Otherwise, the glaze will just melt from the heat.
Why is there no lemon juice in the cookies?

Shortbread cookies don’t need much moisture to achieve their crispy, tender texture. Adding too much liquid can make the texture puffy and cakey.

The best lemon flavor hides in the zest anyway because that’s where the fragrant essential oils reside. And my lemon shortbread cookie recipe takes full advantage of that.

stack of lemon shortbread cookies on a white plate.

Storage instructions

How to store baked lemon shortbread cookies

  • Store: Keep the shortbread cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 7 days or in the refrigerator for 10 days.
  • Freeze: Place the unglazed, baked cookies into a freezer bag or airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Let the shortbread come to room temperature before enjoying.

Make the shortbread dough ahead of time

You can freeze the dough log for a few weeks to get a jump start on holiday baking.

Make the dough as instructed. Then wrap the dough log in plastic wrap and put in a zip-log bag or freezer-friendly container. Freeze the dough for up to 3 months.

If you love cookies as much as we do, here are a few more of our favorite cookie recipes to try! They are all so good that I won’t blame you for keeping the pan to yourself!

Did you enjoy this recipe? Give it a 5-star rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and leave a comment! Appreciate it so much, thank you!

If you had any issues, I’d appreciate the chance to help you troubleshoot before you rate.

lemon shortbread cookies
Yield: 20 cookies
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

Lemon shortbread cookies are an easy slice-and-bake cookie recipe that is guaranteed to become a new holiday favorite! They have a wonderfully buttery, tender texture and bright citrus flavor thanks to plenty of lemon zest. Simple to make with just 4 ingredients!

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup / 210 g / 7.4 oz all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1/2 cup / 100 g / 3.5 oz granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup / 170 g / 6 oz salted butter, softened
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp lemon zest (from 1 to 2 lemons)

Lemon Glaze

  • 1 cup / 120 g / 4.2 oz powdered (confectioners’/icing) sugar
  • 2 to 3 tbsp lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Cream sugar and butter. In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, for about two minutes.
  2. Add flour and lemon zest. Sift the flour into the bowl. Add the lemon zest and whisk until crumbly. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of ice-cold water and knead until just combined. The dough should be soft but not sticky. If the dough seems too sticky, add 1 tbsp flour at a time until it starts to come together.
  3. Shape the dough. Place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap/cling film or wax paper. Shape the dough into a log about 2 in / 5 cm in diameter and 8 in / 20 cm long.
  4. Chill. Wrap the log in plastic wrap/cling film and put it into the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
    Preheat the oven. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 325°F / 170°C / gas mark 3.
  5. Cut cookie rounds. Using a sharp knife, slice thin rounds of the log and place them on the baking tray, spacing the cookies 2 in / 5 cm apart.
  6. Bake. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Watch the cookies closely while baking, so they don’t overbake. It’s okay if the cookies seem soft and underbaked. They will continue to cook as they cool.
  7. Cool. Let cookies cool on the cookie sheet for 10 to 15 minutes or until they are set enough to be handled. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  8. Mix glaze. Whisk the powdered sugar and lemon juice in a small mixing bowl until smooth. Spoon or drizzle over the cooled cookies. Enjoy!

Notes

Tips

  • Use quality butter: The flavor of the butter makes or breaks lemon shortbread cookies. So get the good stuff!
  • Measure the flour correctly: Too much flour will make the dough dry and crumbly instead of soft and buttery. I recommend weighing the flour with a kitchen scale or using the scoop and swipe method.
  • Fix dry dough: If the dough seems too dry or won’t stick together, add in a little more butter (1/2 to 1 tablespoon at a time).
  • Zest the lemon directly into the mixing bowl with your butter, sugar, and flour. The lemon peel contains the highly aromatic essential oils you want in your shortbread. You can also rub the zested lemon with a little sugar to catch more precious lemon oils.
  • Chill the dough: This will make the dough less sticky and easy to slice.
  • Watch the baking time: Shortbread is delicate and soft, so we don’t want to overbake it. The cookies are ready when the edges are lightly golden and the center looks set.
  • Let cool completely before decorating: Wait for the shortbread to completely cool before drizzling with lemon icing. Otherwise, the glaze will just melt from the heat.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 25 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 95Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 15mgSodium: 45mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 0gSugar: 4gProtein: 1g

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