A basic shortbread is butter creamed with sugar, plus a bit of salt, plus flour.

Variations include powdered sugar vs granulated sugar, salted butter and no salt vs unsalted butter and some salt, and various mix-ins: toasted nuts, tea leaves, herbs (lavender does well), coconut, citrus zest, extracts (vanilla is very popular). In a pinch, margarine or shortening can substitute in, though don’t expect the cookie to hold its shape if you do so. In your quarantine pantry, assume anything that sounds good will work.

Shortbread also can be pressed into a pan (about 1/4″-1/2″ thick), rolled into a log and sliced, or rolled out for cookie cutters.

It’s hard to go wrong.

Our first challenge is to figure out what add-ins we want to use. I sometimes pick for us because I need to use an ingredient up, and sometimes lay out the options for Belle to choose. Try not to pick more than one per category (extracts, tea, nuts, zest, coconut, herbs). Talk about seasonings that go together – if it grows together, it goes together, right? Coconut and lime grow in the same climate – sounds delicious. Lemon and lavender are all over the Mediterranean – perfect. Walnuts and lime? Not so much.

Rubbing butter
Belle opted to rub the butter and flour together – so I opted to discuss sensory vocabulary.

Our second challenge is to gather our ingredients and get them ready. Mise en place is so important in toddler baking, because you need to switch to the next step of the recipe quickly! (As a side note, it can be equally important to whisk away the rest of the vanilla before it all gets dumped in!)

Please note that even Papa cannot control Belle’s flour exuberance.

Our third challenge is to bake!

As we bake, we practice pragmatic language and storytelling. We want Belle to indicate when she needs a break (“I need wash my hands! Help me!”). We want to follow multi-step directions, like “unwrap the butter and put it in the bowl, then tell me you’re done.” We want to flip “I don’t want to” into “okay, tell me how to” that will use “first, next, then, last.” We want to have the child explain what they’re doing (“I putting butter in bowl!”), then expand on that with, “yes, you’re putting the butter in the bowl so we can mix it with the sugar. What ingredient do you think we’ll need next?” I sometimes recap what we’ve already done before I move onto the next step, to model storytelling.

MrsSpeechieP graphicWe collaborated with @mrsspeechiep on this post – check out her ideas for how else to work storytelling and language into baking!

We can also work on specific vocabulary that connects to the recipe.

  • The ingredients
  • Sensory words: chilly, sticky, dusty, heavy, light
  • Active words: tip, scoop, pour, mix
  • Wh- questions/answers: Belle often answers How questions with “because it’s so beautiful” (or similar non sequitor), because How doesn’t fully register until after 36 months. These all work though: Where does the butter go? What ingredient is next? Which spatula should we use? When do the cookies come out of the oven?
  • Tools: spatula, “mine new red whisk,” cookie cutter shapes.

Words like spatula have the added benefit of practicing word-initial consonant clusters – Belle often replaces these with an /f/ sound, making spatula into “fatula.” I can repeat it back to her with correct pronunciation, ask her to repeat, or just go about my business knowing that it’s age appropriate and that I’ll be better prepared to guess the next f-word-that’s-not-actually-a-word. “Fing? Spring? Ah, probably thing?”

Honey shortbread
This version substituted some honey in for sugar and used cookie cutters – though clearly Belle had abandoned the project for tablet time by this point.

Skills worked on:

  • Recall/storytelling
  • Knife skills
  • Vocabulary
  • Pronunciation: consonant clusters
  • Pragmatic language


  • Pan (9×9 or 9×13, or 2 8-9″ rounds) or cookie sheets
  • Knife or cookie cutters
  • Rolling pin (optional)
Shortbread log
With a log of shortbread dough, we can practice knife skills

Recipe (30 min prep, 20 min bake, yield ~40 2″ cookies):

  • 2 sticks (1 c) butter
  • 1 c sugar (or powdered sugar)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 c flour
  • Optional: 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional: up to 2 tbsp citrus zest (roughly 1 lemon)
  • Optional: up to 3/4 c toasted nuts, broken into peanut-size pieces, or coconut
  • Optional: up to 2 tbsp loose tea leaves (about 5 tea bags)
  • Optional: 1 tsp other herbs/spices (like lavender)
  1. Optional, if using nuts or coconut: Break nuts down and spread nuts/coconut on a cookie sheet. Toast for about 5 min in a 350°F oven, til aroma is just coming through.
  2. Cream together until fluffy 2 sticks of butter and 1 cup of sugar.
  3. Optional: add 1 tsp vanilla extract and up to 2 tbsp zest and mix.
  4. Whisk together 2 c flour, 1 tsp salt, and any additional coconut or spices in a separate bowl, then mix it into the creamed butter.
  5. Optional: add nuts in, and mix.
  6. If pressing into a pan, line the pan with parchment or grease it heavily. Press dough into pan evenly (about 1/4-1/2″ deep). Otherwise: collect dough into a disc or a log, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 min and up to 24 hours.
  7. Log: unwrap and slice onto cookie sheet, about 1/4″ thick.
  8. Disc: roll out on a floured surface til about 1/4″ thick. Use cookie cutters to shape cookies and place on cookie sheet.
  9. Bake in 350° oven for 20 min (longer if it’s thicker). Cookie should be firm to crisp on top, slightly toasty on bottom (or edge in a pan). Let cool for 2-3 min on sheet then remove to wire rack to cool completely. In pan, let cool 10 min, then use a knife to cut into individual cookies. Let cool completely before removing from pan.

This recipe is part of our coronavirus/Covid-19 quarantine bake-along. See the previous recipe here: Snickerdoodles. See the next recipe here: Mac & Cheese.

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Shortbread pin

3 thoughts on “Shortbread

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