There are those recipes you find, and treasure, that are simple in their perfection. This is one of them. Shortbread is made of only four ingredients. It's simple, fast and easy. Big return on investment. This is the perfect alternative to sugar cookies which have always seemed to me to be more about the shapes and decoration and not so much about the flavor. These are all about the flavor and the texture. They are pure vanilla goodness with that layered, sandy, texture that you can't get enough of. Just look at them from the back to see all the layers.
Shortbread can be baked in the traditional ceramic pan that leaves a decorative impression, as my friend Jennifer taught me to make it in Atlanta many years ago. Or it can be rolled out and cut with cookie cutters. Or even simply pressed into a square baking pan and then cut into strips. Just keep in mind that you may need to adjust the baking time a bit. What you're looking for is a golden color with just a touch of browning around the edges. Let cool completely to get the sandy, crumbly, addictive texture that shortbread is known for.
To dress them up, feel free to dip them or drizzle them with melted dark chocolate.
This recipe is based on the quantity to fill a traditional, ceramic shortbread pan. Mine has nine sections, each with a decorative impression, making nine square cookies. But I usually prefer to roll them out and cut them with cookie cutters. This is one of our holiday favorites and so much better than any sugar cookie I've ever tasted. The recipe can be easily multiplied for bigger batches. You can also refrigerate extra dough for a few days for later baking or to give away as treats.
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir the butter in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add powdered sugar and stir in. Add vanilla and stir in. Add flour, in two increments, and stir in.
If you're going to use a ceramic shortbread pan, press the dough into the pan and bake 20-30 minutes until golden and edges begin to brown. Let cool in pan completely before turning out and cutting into squares.
If you want to use cookie cutters, shape the dough into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour to make the dough easier to work with. Then roll out, cut into shapes with your favorite cookie cutters, place on a silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for approximately 15 minutes so they will hold their shape when baked. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden with browned edges.
Adapted from Brown Bag Ceramic Shortbread Pan recipe.