Simple Iced Shortbread Cookies with a Clever Trick

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Sneak Preview: These iced shortbread cookies are simple but irresistible. Check out the clever trick for rolling out the dough and cutting it into shapes without losing your mind.

Pink Iced Shortbread Cookies  displayed on a plate
The icing is smooth and thin–not messy or too thick. It dries quickly but is not crunchy or hard.

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What if you could make cut-out shortbread cookies that didn’t make a big mess on your kitchen counter? Try this neat-as-a-pin method to roll out the shortbread and cut it into shapes like these butterflies.

Like most people, I reserve cut-out cookies (biscuits) for holiday celebrations. But, unfortunately, they seemed like a lot of trouble until I found this solution.

But first, let’s talk about the ingredients in these cookies.

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Ingredients and substitutions:

  • BUTTER: Salted or unsalted butter are both excellent choices. Margarine will not give you the same cookie you see here.
  • POWDERED SUGAR: Powdered sugar (aka confectioner’s sugar or icing sugar) contributes to the melt-in-your-mouth texture that makes these cookies so popular. If you don’t have access to powdered sugar, try making it with granulated sugar and a blender.
  • VANILLA EXTRACT: Instead of vanilla extract, a tiny amount of almond extract could be substituted. Maple extract has its fans, too.
  • BAKING POWDER: Baking powder has no substitute. Please don’t use baking soda.
  • FLOUR: My favorite flour for this recipe is unbleached all-purpose flour. Next in line is bleached all-purpose flour
  • MILK: Whole milk works best in icing for shortbread cookies, but reduced-fat milk is OK, too. Although I love to use heavy cream in icing, it’s not the best for cookies because it doesn’t set up as fast.
  • FOOD COLORING: This is optional, of course. The paste or the liquid is appropriate. However, start with only a drop or two in the beginning so you don’t ruin an entire batch of icing with too much color.

Do these cookies seem intimidating?


Sticky dough, cleaning up the sticky dough, getting the shaped sticky dough unstuck from whatever you’re rolling them on and transferring the cookie to a cookie sheet, etc. Ugh!

On addition, these cookies beg to be frosted. The kids usually want to add sprinkles or other decorations, too. Just thinking about the potential mess is a “Calgon” moment.

I ran across a great idea in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking cookbook the other day. It’s genius!

📌A simple roll-out hack for Iced Shortbread Cookies📌:

dough inside of the ziplock
Place the cookie dough inside a closed zippered plastic bag.
using a rolling pin to roll out dough
Use a rolling pin and roll the dough into all the corners to make the dough the same thickness everywhere.
Cookie dough ready to put in the freezer.
Place the bag in the freezer and chill the dough until stiff.
Remove frozen dough from the freezer.
peeling the plastic back from the dough
Uncover the dough by trimming two edges and unzipping the top of the bag. Pull back the plastic.

Open the bag on three sides and let your cookie-cutter go wild. Because the dough has been thoroughly chilled, the cut-out cookies are easy to pick up with your hands or peel off the plastic before transferring to a cookie sheet, ready to bake.

Cutting out Shamrock Shortbread Cookies with a cookie cutter
Use cookie cutters of your choice. You may need to use a toothpick or dull point of a knife to extract small pieces, i.e., legs, tails, stems, etc.

Here’s the best part:

Clean-up is as simple as throwing the bag away. No flour to sweep up. No sticky dough to scrape from your counter or cutting board.

Dorie’s technique is adaptable to almost any roll-out-the-dough-and-cut-into-a shape recipe–like these Homemade Oatmeal Pop-TartsGive it a try!

cookies made with various cutters laid on a baking sheet
I recommend small cookie cutters for this recipe. Not only are small cookies more appealing to eat at parties, but the dough is easier to handle.

Variations:

SHAMROCK SHORTBREAD COOKIES
Irish Shortbread Cookies with green icing are perfect for St. Patrick’s day next March.
ICED SHORTBREAD COOKIES-in a box
Try these valentine-shaped shortbread cookies for Valentine’s party or as a special gift. I guarantee the recipient will be thrilled.

FAQ about these shortbread cookies:

What makes this cookie shortbread?

These cookies consist of flour, sugar, and fat (butter). There is no leavening like baking soda or baking powder.

How long will these cookies stay fresh?

If you keep them in an air-tight container, they stay fresh for a week. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Can I freeze shortbread cookies?

Double wrap them to store in the freezer for up to two months.

What can I substitute for unsalted butter?

Salted butter is the best substitute. Butter is what makes these cookies taste unique. Margarine or shortening is a compromise.


niece eating cookie
Kid-tested and approved!

Parting words: I hope you enjoyed the hack for cutting out these cookies. Even though a zippered plastic bag is sacrificed in the process, I think the time and trouble saved is well worth the effort.


If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately to Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon! Paula


Iced Shortbread Cookie Recipe

A simple but delicious shortbread cookie with smooth butter icing. Kids and adults alike love these.
5 from 6 votes
Prep Time 29 mins
Cook Time 12 mins
Total Time 32 mins
Course Cookies
Servings 72 bite-sized cookies

Video

Ingredients

COOKIE DOUGH

  • 1 cup unsalted butter - 226 gr (room temp)
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar - 85 gr
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract - 14 gr
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder - 2 gr
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour - 240 gr

ICING

  • 2 cups powdered sugar - 227 gr
  • 3-4 tablespoon milk - 42-50 gr
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla or almond extract - 7 gr
  • pink food coloring - 1-2 drops

Instructions
 

  • Combine butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat on medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add vanilla and beat until combined.
  • Whisk flour and baking powder together in a separate bowl. Add this flour mixture slowly to the butter mixture, stirring on low speed. Stop beating as soon as the flour mixture is completely incorporated. Over beating will result in toughness.
  • Form the dough into a slightly flattened ball and chill for about 30 minutes. Place chilled dough into the plastic zipper storage bag. With the bag slightly open to allow air to escape, roll out the dough until evenly distributed throughout the bag. Place back into the refrigerator until firm–at least 30 minutes–up to 2 days. It can also freeze at this point.
  • Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line baking pans with parchment paper, silicone mats, or use cooking spray.
  • Remove cookie dough from the fridge and carefully cut three sides of the bag with kitchen shears or scissors, leaving one side intact. Open up and use cookie cutters to cut out cookies. Because the dough is cold and firm, they should peel off the plastic easily. Place on prepared cookie sheets. Re-roll scraps after replacing plastic over the new ball and refrigerate for a few minutes until firm again. Repeat as needed until all dough is used.
  • Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until light brown around the edges. Cool the cookies for 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Frosting

  • Whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and extract. If too thick, add more milk a few drops at a time. If too thin, add more powdered sugar or let sit for a while.
  • Use food coloring to tint the icing. Ice cookies and allow to sit until the icing dries. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week or tightly wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic for one month in the freezer.

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Iced Shortbread Cookie Recipe
Serving Size
 
3 cookies
Amount per Serving
Calories
 
55
Calories from Fat 27
% Daily Value*
Fat
 
3
g
5
%
Saturated Fat
 
2
g
13
%
Trans Fat
 
1
g
Polyunsaturated Fat
 
1
g
Cholesterol
 
7
mg
2
%
Sodium
 
7
mg
0
%
Carbohydrates
 
7
g
2
%
Fiber
 
1
g
4
%
Sugar
 
5
g
6
%
Protein
 
1
g
2
%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Author: Paula Rhodes
Course: Cookies
Cuisine: American
Keywords: butterfly cookies, frosted cookies, holiday baking, iced cookies, shortbread
Like this recipe? Thanks for leaving a 5-star rating inside the recipe at the top! 🤩

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22 Comments

  1. Wow! Awesome idea about the plastic bag! I will definitely be trying that out! These cookies are delicious!!

  2. nice colourful cookies…

  3. These shortbread cookies look fabulous! All I would need is a good cup of coffee and a few of these tasty treats and I would be in a happy place.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. How cute and pretty! I love shortbread!

  5. Stress-free rolling sounds wonderful. Iced shortbread is my absolute favorite sweet treat.

  6. I just made some! Mine aren’t nearly as pretty as yours, but they sure do taste good. I went all out and bought the almond extract for the icing. I think it’s great. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  7. I just made this shortbread recipe. Not only was it the best method I’ve ever tried, it is also the most delicious I have ever tried. I might try a drizzle of chocolate on them next. Thank you!

    1. Yes, yes….chocolate would be very tasty.

  8. This sounds so easy! Haven’t made cut-out cookies in about 15 years b/c they’re such a pain to roll out, but now– must try! Thanks.

    1. Bonnie, the idea of rolling out cookies on a floured surface doesn’t appeal to me either. Ziploc bags are my friends!

  9. Love the plastic bag idea! I hate using a pastry cloth!

  10. Look delicious and adorable. Do they freeze well?

    1. Hi Jami,
      Yes, these cookies freeze very well as long as your wrap them up good. pr

  11. What a FANTASTIC idea you have given me … after ALL these years you can teach an old dog new tricks … Thanks

  12. Are we allowed to pin this? Your site has a follow me button, but not a button saying I can pin. Thanks

  13. I’ve made this receive 3x in 3 days. Totally in love. My very picky eater may actually gain weight with these in the house as a reward. Delicious!

  14. Approximately how many cookies do you get per batch? I realize it probably varies depending on the size cookie cutters you use, but on average?

    1. Nancy,
      The original recipe predicted 20 cookies but that is a full-size cookie. It makes at least 2-3 times that many of the smaller cookies that I like.

  15. Hi, I am looking for a glaze to put on top of shortbread cookies – is this icing more like a glaze rather than a thick icing? and does it harden just a bit after it has dried so that the cookies could be stacked on top of each other?
    Thanks so much!

  16. Jill Billions says:

    Easy way to roll it out for sure but you’re Wasting all that plastic. Tossing it and filling up land fills or oceans. You can do the same thing between 2 pieces of parchment paper and reuse them over and over many times.

  17. Hi Nancy, I’m not sure if the measurements in grams are incorrect, or if shortbread dough is supposed to be so sticky, but I followed the measurements in grams and my dough was very sticky and greasy. I had to add quite a bit more flour to fix it, and with some Googling I found that shortbread dough is supposed to be crumbly. Could you please check the measurements again?

    1. Hi Ashrita,

      Even though I’m not Nancy, I can confirm those measurements are correct. Did you chill the dough? That is an important step. Adding extra flour shouldn’t hurt them too much. I hope they turn out delicious for you.