As if anything cut into a heart shape could get any cuter, I decorate these Lemon Shortbread Cookies with a drizzle of tangy lemon icing and fresh lemon zest. These are so cute for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, or any time you need a springtime treat!
I must confess I have spent most of my life skipping over shortbread. My Girl Scout cookies order never contains them. I will take a gooey pumpkin white chocolate chip cookies with crisp edges and melty chocolate any day over a boring shortbread cookie.
But then, I made my honey shortbread and became speechless. I did not know of the magic that happens in the oven to such simple ingredients like butter, sugar and flour. The caramelization of the sugar, and the soft, crumbly buttery texture is not to be missed. Yes, I finally agree that shortbread cookies are their own thing, and they deserve their own love. Don't miss my chocolate shortbread, while we're here.
My love of lemon has me adding a lemon icing with fresh lemon juice and extra lemon zest to these lemon shortbread cookies before serving. They are a lemon lovers dream, and the cookie shape can be anything you like. I almost always choose hearts, because my kids associate them with love, even when Valentine's Day is not near.
How to Make Lemon Shortbread Cookies
This is the best recipe for lemon shortbread cookies, because I am a true lemon lover, and so is my recipe tester! The icing and extra lemon zest on top is optional, but it really brightens up the lemon flavor.
Yes, this recipe really only has 5 ingredients, including salt! Shortbread is meant to be simple. It's important to use the highest quality butter here, because the flavor really shines. I love that this recipe is completely egg-free, too! Here are all of my eggless recipes.
This lemon shortbread cookie dough does not need to be refrigerated at all in order for the dough to hold its shape during baking. I also really, really recommend baking this recipe by weight, because it's easy to add too much flour with a cup measure. However, if your dough is overly dry, just add a few drops of lemon juice and beat until it comes together.
- Butter. One cup (two sticks or 8 ounces) of high-quality unsalted butter. I like to use a European-style butter here that is very rich and flavorful. However, regular grocery store butter works just as well in this recipe. When a recipe contains such few ingredients, the quality of each one really shines. The butter should be left on the counter for about 2 hours to come to room temperature, but it should be overly soft. If you press it, a finger will create an indentation, but it will not easily slide all the way through. It should be roughly 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit (or, room temperature).
- Powdered Sugar. One of the reasons these lemon shortbread cookies are so soft and tender is the use of powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar. We will use powdered sugar (also sometimes called confectioners' sugar) in the dough and again for the optional glaze.
- Lemon. We need two whole lemons for this recipe, because we're using a full tablespoon of lemon zest for the dough. We will use the extra lemon juice for the icing. I like to sprinkle on extra lemon zest for decorating the cookies.
- Flour. All-purpose flour that has been measured by weight is my first choice for this recipe. If you don't wish to bake with a scale, the best way to measure flour is to whisk it or fluff it, scoop it gently (never pack it into the cup), and then use a knife to level it off.
- Salt. If you want to use salted butter, you can omit the salt. Otherwise, please do not skip adding salt to your lemon shortbread cookies. It balances the sweetness and tang of the lemon. All desserts need a small amount of salt for flavor balance.
First, preheat the oven to 325-degrees Fahrenheit, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper (if the sheets aren't non-stick). In a large bowl, slice the softened butter and add the powdered sugar.
Use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy and lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Then, add the one tablespoon of lemon zest and beat again, just to combine.
Sprinkle the flour and salt on top of the dough in the bowl, and beat just until you can't see the flour anymore. It might seem overly dry, but if you squeeze a handful in your warm hand, it will clump together nicely. If it seems way too dry, add a ½ teaspoon of lemon juice and beat again.
Gather half of the dough into a ball, and place it on a surface that has been sprinkled with the extra powdered sugar. Use a rolling pin to roll it out to a little less than ½-inch thickness. Lemon shortbread cookies should be somewhat thick. Use your favorite cookie cutter to make your shapes, gather the scraps, re-roll and repeat. Do the same with the remaining half of the dough.
Place all of your lemon shortbread cookies on a baking sheet. The cookies won't spread much, so you can fit 18 cookies on each pan (depending on the shape). Bake for 9 minutes, and remove from the oven when the edges of the cookies start to turn a pale golden brown.
While the cookies cool on the baking sheet completely, whisk together the powdered sugar and fresh lemon juice from the lemons you used for zest.
Whisk the lemon icing until smooth with a whisk. Be sure no lumps of powdered sugar remain in the glaze.
Use a spoon to drizzle a small amount of the lemon glaze over each cookie, and garnish with more lemon zest, if you like.
- Heart Cookie Cutter - I like this set of cookie cutters because it contains 3 different sizes of hearts. I use the smallest heart, by the way.
- Hand-Mixer - I love this hand mixer.
- Non-Stick Baking Sheets - I have recently started using these cookie sheets that have lines or ridges on them that help prevent sticking. This cuts down on my use of parchment paper and silicone mats. If you don't have a nonstick cookie sheet, use a piece of parchment paper. I also want to mention that light colored metal cookie sheets are better than dark metal. The dark metal bakes the cookies too quickly in the oven, and you will end up with burnt edges.
Tips for Lemon Shortbread Cookies:
There are only two times these cookies can be frozen: once the dough has been rolled out and cut out into their final shapes. And two, after they have been baked. I absolutely do not advise chilling or freezing shortbread dough before it has been rolled out and cut into shapes. Shortbread dough can become dry and crumbly when the butter becomes too cold.
After baking, I keep these in an air-tight container for up to 4 days at room temperature. You can store already baked cookies in the fridge for up to 1 week. Beyond that, it's best to freeze already baked cookies in two layers of plastic wrap and a freezer storage bag. They will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months; defrost at room temperature.
There are all sorts of recipe variations for shortbread, and some actually call for a chill time in the fridge to help the dough adhere together. In my experience, shortbread doughs that have been chilled become overly dry and crumbly. They are a huge pain to roll out because they will crack around the edges. I recommend starting this recipe with softened butter and making it all the way through to completion. You can refrigerate the cookies before baking if they have already been rolled out and cut out into shapes. Or, you can refrigerate them after baking. But I do not recommend making the dough and tossing in the fridge to roll out later. You'll have a hard, dry dough that will require moisture or heat to become roll-able again. Do I sound like someone who has been flustered with bad shortbread recipes in my day or what?
- 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup (50 grams) powdered sugar, plus extra for rolling
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
- 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for pan
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice from 1 lemon)
- 1 cup (100 grams) powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 325-degrees F. Have ready 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper (or use non-stick ridged sheets).
- In a large bowl, add the butter and powdered sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, at least 2 minutes.
- Add the lemon zest and beat again.
- Sprinkle the flour and salt on top of the butter mixture, and beat just until combined.
- If the dough seems overly crumbly and dry, squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice at a time until it comes together. If you make this recipe by weight, it should be fine, but if you scoop-and-level to measure, you might accidentally add too much flour and the dough will be dry.
- Lightly dust a surface with the extra powdered sugar. Gather half of the dough into a disk, and using a rolling pin dusted with powdered sugar, roll out the dough to slightly less than ½-inch thickness. These cookies are somewhat thick for the best texture.
- Use any cookie cutters you like to cut out shapes. Use a small spatula to move the cookies to the sheet pan. Repeat with remaining half of dough until all of the dough is used to make cookies. You will get about 36 cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutter.
- Bake for 9 minutes, until the edges of the cookies just start to turn a very light golden brown. Keep an eye on the cookie sheet on the bottom rack, and if your oven doesn't bake evenly, you may need to rotate the pans half-way through the baking time.
- Let the cookies cool completely on the cookie sheets.
- Before serving, whisk together the lemon juice and powdered sugar together until easily pour-able. Drizzle the lemon glaze over the cookies and serve.
Make-Ahead: I do not recommend making the dough ahead of time and refrigerating, because it becomes too dry and crumbly when you try to roll it out. You can refrigerate cookies that have already been rolled out and cut out, though.
Storage: I keep these in an air-tight container for up to 4 days at room temperature. You can store already baked cookies in the fridge for up to 1 week. Beyond that, it's best to freeze already baked cookies in two layers of plastic wrap and a freezer storage bag. They will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months; defrost at room temperature.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 81Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 64mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 0gSugar: 6gProtein: 1g