This small but mighty cookie is proof that even the simplest ingredients can make for an elegant and flavorful baked result. The combination of unsalted butter (use the good stuff), flour, cornstarch and sugar make for a tender, meltaway texture. Adding in a good dose of vanilla extract (use the pure stuff) and salt (don’t skimp on it) makes each bite of this shortbread slightly sweet, slightly savory, and wonderfully fragrant.

The shortbread is easy to prepare, packed with big-time flavor, makes a big batch (32 cookies in one pan!), and has a dreamy melt-in-your-mouth texture that’s out of this world. Oh, and the recipe also includes tons of flavor variations (see below) to please everyone on your cookie gift-giving list. I’m not sure you can ask any more of one cookie.

Stow the baked and cooled cookies in an airtight container for up to 4 days at room temperature or freeze for up to 6 weeks.

Makes 32 small bar cookies


  • 1 2/3 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Coarse sanding sugar or sea salt flakes, optional


1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly grease the sides and bottom of an 8-inch square pan (the straight-sided type makes for a cleaner-looking cookie) and line with a piece of parchment. Whisk the flour, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl until blended.

2. Put the butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using an electric handheld mixer fitted with wire beaters). Beat on medium speed until light and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the dough just comes together. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan. Using lightly floured fingertips, press the dough into the pan and tamp down the edges to form an even layer.

3. Using the tip of a paring knife or a bench scraper, score two opposite sides at 1-inch intervals and the other two sides at 2-inch intervals. Then connect them to form 32, 1 x 2-inch bars. Using the lines as a guide, cut the dough all the way through and, with the tines of a fork, prick each bar twice all the way through, spacing them evenly. Sprinkle the top with coarse sanding sugar or sea salt flakes, if desired.

4. Bake the shortbread until the top looks dry and lightly browned around the edges, 42 to 44 minutes. Move the pan to a rack. Using a small paring or serrated knife, immediately recut the rectangles using the scored lines as a guide. Let the shortbread cool completely. Using a small offset spatula, lift the bars from the pan. The first one might be tricky (if crumbly, consider it the chef’s treat) but the rest will come out easily.


Flavor Variations

Lemon: Reduce the vanilla to 3/4 teaspoon and add 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest along with the vanilla.

Coffee: Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee granules (decaf is okay too) in the vanilla extract.

Ginger: (paired with the classic vanilla or lemon variation) Add 1/3 cup (1 3/8 ounces) finely chopped crystallized ginger along with the flour mixture.

Chocolate Chip: (delicious when paired with the classic vanilla or coffee variation) Add 1/3 cup (2 ounces) finely chopped bittersweet, milk or white chocolate along with the flour mixture. Nutty: (delicious alone or when paired with the classic vanilla, coffee or lemon variation) Add 1/2 cup (2 ounces) toasted, finely chopped nuts (your choice) along with the flour mixture.