Shortbread cookies may seem simple to make with just a few basic ingredients, but getting the texture right is a challenge. You might be in the kitchen now asking yourself, are shortbread cookies supposed to be soft, or should they be hard and crumbly?
Traditional shortbread cookies are not supposed to be soft. They should have a crumbly and slightly crunchy texture.
However, many new recipes put a twist on the traditional shortbread cookie, making it softer. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind shortbread texture and share tips and tricks to help you achieve the perfect texture.
Shortbread is a delicious Scottish cookie that’s traditionally made with three simple ingredients—butter, flour, and sugar.
To make traditional shortbread cookies, butter and sugar are first mixed before the flour is added to make the dough. The dough is then rolled out, cut into shapes, and baked until it’s pale golden.
Instead of soft, the cookie should have a crisp texture that melts in the mouth. It should be “short.”
Short, in baking, refers to a type of dough that’s high in fat but has a low amount of water, making the end-result crumbly and tender, with a rich, buttery flavor.
Shortbread isn’t typically soft, but tender. A “soft” texture in baked goods means a high moisture content resulting in fluffiness.
“Tender” refers to a baked good’s texture in terms of crumb structure. A tender cookie has a delicate crumb structure that easily breaks apart.
Shortbread gets its tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture from the high-fat content in butter. The high ratio of butter to flour in shortbread dough coats the flour particles. This prevents gluten formation, resulting in its classic crumbliness.
If you’ve unintentionally made shortbread cookies that are softer than usual, there are some things that you might have done wrong. Those can include under-baking or adding too much liquid.
If your shortbread cookies have a soft, doughy texture, it’s a sign they may be under-baked. Here’s why you’re making this mistake.
When your oven temperature is too low, the cookies won’t bake thoroughly, leaving you with pale, under-baked cookies.
On the flip side, too high a temperature will cause the top of the cookies to brown quickly, while the bottom stays moist and doughy.
Your dough may be too thick. If your dough is thicker than the recipe suggests, you’ll need to adjust the baking time and temperature to make sure it’s baked thoroughly.
Otherwise, the dough won’t bake evenly. The top layer will brown too quickly, while the bottom remains under-baked.
Another reason your shortbread is coming out soft could be that you’re adding too much liquid to the dough.
You might have measured your ingredients incorrectly and added too much butter or flavoring extracts in proportion to your dry ingredients.
If you’re adjusting the measurements of the ingredients to a bigger serving size, there might be a mistake in your calculations.
Make sure you’re measuring your ingredients properly and following the recipe correctly to avoid adding too much liquid.
You might want your cookie to be soft, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture, or you might prefer a hard and crunchy version.
Whatever it is, you can achieve your desired texture by experimenting with some of the following elements.
Butter is the key ingredient of shortbread cookies. Adjusting the amount of butter can change the texture of your cookie.
Add a little more butter in proportion to your dry ingredients, and your cookie will be softer. Decrease the butter, and you get a harder cookie.
Additionally, melting your butter before mixing it with dry ingredients can make your cookie more tender and moist.
You can try switching out your sugar. Sugar doesn’t just affect your cookie’s flavor, it can also change the texture based on what kind you use.
Granulated sugar will create a crispier texture. In contrast, brown sugar, with its high moisture content, will give you a softer and chewier cookie.
The flour you use can also impact the texture of your cookie. If you want a softer cookie, try using flour with a low protein amount, like cake flour.
High-protein flour, like bread flour, will result in a harder and crumblier texture. This is because protein in the flour forms gluten when mixed with liquid, and gluten provides structure to baked goods.
How long you let your dough rest before baking can also affect your cookie’s texture. The longer time you give the dough to rest, the softer the cookie will be.
Try resting the dough overnight to get a more tender texture, or try baking it right away without resting for an extra crunch.
While shortbread cookies are known for their crumbly texture, some people like them softer and more tender.
When experimenting with ingredients and techniques, it’s important to find the perfect balance. Changing the original recipe too much may result in cookies that are too hard or too soft.
Just keep trying, and after a few bad batches, you’ll no doubt achieve the perfect cookie.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.