Recipe :: Lemon Shortbread

Nov 4, 2012 by

Feast your eyes upon this!

You know how it is as a young, hip, newly-married: sometimes you buy too many lemons for your swingin’ cocktail party and then everyone drinks wine, and you’re left with a surplus of lemons!  Actually, maybe that has happened to you, but I really don’t have a clue how we ended up with all these lemons in our fridge, just that they’re here and I feel like cooking.

I have always considered myself to be a multifaceted person (like all people), and even referred to myself as a multi-fauceted sink as a child, before I had a real grasp on the vocabulary.  And while all of these factions of my personality co-exist kindly on a regular basis, sometimes one of them will cry out for my full attention, and I think it’s healthy to indulge these urgings.  So today, even though there were plenty of things on my to-do list, I gave into the domestic part of myself and cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and rearranged the pantry.  The result was, when our friends arrived to watch the NFL game tonight, I was able to great them with a clean home, a pot of taco soup, some corn pudding (recipe coming soon), and this homemade shortbread.  I call that productive, even if no websites got built or drafts got edited or student plays got graded.  It was Susie Homemaker’s day, and I let her have free reign.

So I had all these lemons, and a really strong urge to cook ’em.

I have always been somewhat fearful of shortbread, the classic Scottish treat.  Not eating it (to which I have absolutely no aversion at all), but making it has always seemed daunting.  I think because it’s one of those recipes that says you can’t overwork the dough or it’ll ruin everything, but no one can really tell you a quantifiable way to measure whether or not you’ve overworked the dough.  I don’t appreciate that kind of guessing game, shortbread.  It gives me baker’s anxiety.  I have repeated that advice in the below recipe, but don’t stress out about it.  Mine turned out FANTASTICALLY, and I still can’t tell you at what point a person has “overworked” the dough.  Don’t let the wording overwork your nerves.

Lemon Shortbread


  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 1 cup all-purposed flour, plus more for handling the dough
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest (about 1/2 lemon’s worth)
  • 1-1.5 tsp lemon juice (depending on how much you like lemon)
  • 1 tsp powdered sugar


The process

  • Heat oven to 350° F (or 325˚ if you’re making squares instead of wedges).  Butter a round cake pan and put down a circle of parchment paper on the bottom.  Butter the parchment paper.
  • Whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.
  • With an electric mixer, beat the butter, vanilla, and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the dry mixture one spoonful at a time.  When you have added in half the dry mixture, pour in the lemon juice, then resume spooning in the dry ingredients.   Mix just until incorporated.
  • Remove the mixing bowl from the mixing stand.  Batter should be crumbly, but moist.  Mix in the lemon zest and powdered sugar by hand, gently.  Remember, the secret to good shortbread is not over-handling the dough.
  • With floured fingers, press the dough into an 8-inch round cake pan.  If, like me, you find yourself with only a 9-inch cake pan, press into a circle in the middle and make an edge with your fingers (see photo at right). Score the dough about halfway into 12 wedges (this will make cutting easier later) and prick all over with a toothpick.
    • For squares instead of wedges, pat or roll dough out into a rectangle that is about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into small squares, rectangles or diamonds. Arrange cookies on ungreased baking sheet (put down parchment paper for easier removal) and bake 20-25 minutes in a preheated 325˚ oven until the bottom edges are just starting to brown.
  • Bake until golden and firm, 35 to 40 minutes.  Check the shortbread by pressing on it lightly with your finger — if it doesn’t indent, but still feels soft to the touch, it’s done.  When cool enough to handle, turn the shortbread out of the pan and use a knife to recut along the score lines. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Optional: drizzle with melted semisweet chocolate or caramel.

Makes 12 wedges or about 20-24 cookies.



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