Not too sweet and not too sour with the warm scent of vanilla, these Lemon Shortbread Cookies are buttery, tender, and crisp with just the right amount of bright lemon flavor.
This cookie recipe features lemon zest and juice, vanilla extract, and beans with a touch of cornstarch for extra tenderness. Mix, then refrigerate so flavors have time to marry. Cut the dough with your favorite cookie cutter and bake or freeze it for later. Share with friends and family for the holidays or anytime! This recipe is vegetarian and egg-free. | This recipe is brought to you by Bob’s Red Mill.
Table of Contents
Melt in Your Mouth Lemon Shortbread Cookies
Shortbread may seem high-brow, but they’re one of the simplest cookies to make and a joy to share. They’re make ahead easy because the cookie dough can be stored in the fridge for days, where their flavor improves, or frozen to be baked later. As a bonus, they have a long shelf life and are perfect for gifting near and far. No wonder they’re cherished cookies!
Shortbread was one of my favorite types of cookies to make when I worked at the bakery, and they continue to be a favorite. I mean, who doesn’t love shortbread?
This Recipe Is:
- cut with a cookie cutter of choice
- buttery and lemony
- crisp and tender
- freezer friendly
If you love homemade Cookie Recipes, you’ll enjoy these flavorful shortbread cookies.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Tender lemon shortbread cookies come together with just 8 ingredients (+ salt), making them so convenient and easy to pull together. Here’s what you’ll need to whip em’ up (see recipe card for details):
- Unsalted Butter: choose a high-quality butter for best flavor. You’ll need just a stick and a half for this recipe. Set the butter out on the kitchen counter the night before so it can warm up to room temperature. This is the optimal temperature to render the butter soft and pliable, perfect for mixing.
- Cane Sugar: often seen as organic cane sugar, it’s less refined than granulated sugar and offers a slightly richer flavor due to a touch of naturally occurring molasses.
- Powdered Sugar: also known as confectioners sugar. Not only does it provide sweet flavor, but it aids in creating a tender cookie.
- Lemon Juice and Zest: using both in this recipe increases its lemony flavor profile. Lemon zest is aromatic, bright, and citrusy thanks to its oils just under the surface of the skin. It’s more punchy than lemon juice. Lemon juice is tangy and sour, adding freshness and acidity to these cookies.
- Pure Vanilla Extract: adds warmth and richness. It helps balance the sharp notes of lemon.
- Vanilla Beans: you’ll need half a vanilla bean scraped in this recipe. Vanilla Beans add beautiful little flecks, indicating wonderful flavor inside, warmth, richness and complex flavor. Vanilla bean paste may be subbed.
- Unbleached All Purpose Flour: creates tender and delicious cookies. I use Bob’s Red Mill Organic All Purpose Flour for beautiful and delicious results every time.
- Corn Starch: a common ingredient in some shortbread recipes, using it in these lemon shortbread cookies lightens the crumb and tenderizes the dough further for a tender crunch!
- Fine Sea Salt: just a touch in the in the batter adds flavor and interest.
Get Ready to Make Lemon Shortbread!
Ingredients Make All the Difference
Choosing high-quality ingredients is important for flavor and health. It reflects the love and attention that goes into each recipe I create for my family, friends, and the Vanilla And Bean community. I use Bob’s Red Mill Organic Unbleached All Purpose Flour in this and many of my baked goods recipes. It’s a high-quality flour that produces consistent results every time.
You’ll find Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Flour in my tasty Royale Cookies, and these rich and soft Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies, and much more! It’s perfect for every day and an ingredient you’ll always find in my pantry.
For more inspiration and recipes using Bob’s Red Mill Organic Unbleached All Purpose Flour, be sure to check out their website.
Mix the Cookies
Chill Your Dough
The longest part of the recipe is the hands-off time for resting the dough. This happens twice while making the cookies and ensures the prettiest and tastiest shortbread:
- After Mixing: so the flavors can deepen and marry. Refrigerate for at least two hours, or up to 48 hours. Doing this simple step allows the flavors to shine and takes your cookie from good to spectacular!
- Before Baking: after cutting the cookies, transfer them to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, then into the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. This ensures the cookies will hold their shape.
In the photos, you’ll notice a sparkly sprinkle on top of the cookies, which I love to add during the holidays. This is simply cane sugar and lemon zest mixed together. You can omit this for a no-finish top if you prefer.
Lemon Shortbread cookies can be frozen. Here’s how: freeze the dough for up to two weeks, tightly double-wrapped in parchment paper. Or freeze unbaked cookie cutouts on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Once frozen, store in a freezer container or bag between layers of parchment. To thaw, arrange on a parchment-lined sheet pan in one layer. Thaw in the fridge, then bake.
How to Store
Store baked lemon shortbread cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Plan Ahead: while these cookies are simple to make, they require a 2-hour rest in the refrigerator before rolling and cutting, then again for 20 minutes just before going into the oven.
Roll Out the Dough and Bake
- Plan ahead: These cookies need to rest for at least two hours in the fridge prior to cutting and 20 minutes before baking. However, the cookie dough can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to a month.
- Make ahead: Shortbread has a long shelf stable life, so they make perfect make-ahead cookies to ship to friends and family near and far! They stay fresh for up to one week when stored at room temperature in a sealed container.
- Kitchen Tools: For accurate oven temperature monitoring, I recommend a digital oven thermometer with an air probe. Weigh your ingredients using a digital kitchen scale for the best outcome (affiliate links).
More Cookie Recipes to Love
- Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
- Bourbon Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies
- Vegan No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
- Cocoa Nibby Pecan Shortbread Cookies
- Italian Wedding Cookies
8-Ingredient Lemon Shortbread Cookies with Vanilla
- 1 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (265g) Unbleached All Purpose Flour I use Bob's Red Mill
- 1 tablespoon Corn Starch
- 1/4 teaspoon Fine Sea Salt
- 3/4 cup (170 grams) or 1 1/2 Sticks Unsalted Butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (90 grams) Cane Sugar divided
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) Powdered Sugar
- 1 tablespoon + 1/4 teaspoon Lemon Zest packed, divided, from about 3 1/2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Fresh Lemon Juice from about 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 Vanilla Bean Pod scraped of its seeds, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
Mix the Dough:
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the flour, corn starch and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter, 1/4 cup (60 grams) of cane sugar and powdered sugar, and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest. Mix on medium for about 2 minutes or until smooth (not fluffy), stopping to scrape bowl at least once.
- Add the lemon juice, vanilla extract and vanilla beans. Mix again on medium for about 30 seconds, or until incorporated. Scrape down bowl. Add the flour mixture all at once, pulse to start, then mix on medium until the dough forms somewhat of a ball on the paddle and has pulled away from sides of the bowl.
To Shape, Cut and Rest:
- Transfer the cookie dough to your work surface (you shouldn't need any flour here, but if the dough is sticking, add a touch of flour). Knead the dough a few times until a mass forms. Divide it in half. Shape each piece into about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) thick discs. Wrap snugly in parchment paper and refrigerate for two hours or up to two days.
- To Freeze (optional): At this point, the dough can be frozen for up to two months. Be sure to double wrap the dough to prevent freezer burn.Thaw overnight in the fridge then proceed.
- Make the Sparkling Lemon Sprinkle (optional): While the cookie dough is resting, in a small bowl, mix the 2 tablespoons of remaining cane sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of lemon zest. Set aside at room temperature, uncovered (for about two hours) where the lemon zest oils will infuse the sugar and dry out slightly.
To Cut and Pan:
- Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper. Set aside. Make room in the refrigerator for your pans. Alternatively, you can rest one pan in the refrigerator while preparing or baking the other. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to set at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes to make rolling easier. Flour your work surface, pin and surface of dough. Beat the dough with the rolling pin a few times to condition the dough. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch (6 millimeters) thick. Cut the cookies with a 1 3/4 inch (4.4 centimeter) cookie cutter, reflouring as needed to prevent sticking. If the dough starts cracking, gather what you've rolled, knead it a few times and beat it with the pin to condition it. Shape into a rough disc, reroll to 1/4 inch thick and cut. Gather the scraps and reroll and cut as needed. Transfer cookie cutouts to the sheet pans. Space cookies at least 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) apart on the sheet pan. Place the cookies in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before baking (do not skip this step or the cookies will lose their shape).
- Arrange a baking rack in the center of the oven and one directly underneath. Preheat the oven to 325 Fahrenheit (160 Celsius) while the cookies rest in the refrigerator. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and working quickly, sprinkle the sparkling lemon sprinkle if using over the tops of the cookies, less than 1/8 teaspoon each.
- Bake at 325 Fahrenheit 15-18 minutes, until the cookies turn lightly golden brown around the edges. If baking two pans at once, rotate the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet pan for five minutes, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack and cool them completely. They'll become crisp as they cool.
- Store in a covered container at room temperature for up one week.