Filed under: Cookies / Egg-free
January 9, 2024

Lemon Shortbread

Crumbly, buttery shortbread that bursts with a sweet and tart lemon flavor. These shortbread get their flavor from fresh zest, lemon extract, vanilla paste and high quality butter. The dough is rested twice to enhance the lemony flavor of the shortbread and baked twice for extra crispness. Optionally topped with a fresh lemon glaze.

5 from 3 votes
Yield: 24 cookies
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Lemon Shortbread

I love, love a good lemon bake. I love the bright flavor of the zest and the sharp tart (sometimes sour) bite of the juice. The challenge when incorporating lemon into a dessert dish is always: how to get as much ‘lemon’ flavor as possible without screwing up the bake? 

We can’t add lemon juice to a shortbread base – too little and the flavor won’t really come through, too much and you’ve added so much moisture to the dough that it no longer has the consistency of crumbly shortbread. 

This recipe is a teeny bit tedious, but quite easy and mostly hands off: the hands off part is to give the lemon flavors time to absorb and enhance. That way, you bite into one of these and there’s no mistake that this is a bright, slightly tart, lemon shortbread. 

recipe background

For these I started working from this vanilla shortbread recipe of mine: I knew I wanted ‘alotta lemon’ in there so in addition to using lemon extract I zest three full lemons into the sugar, rub it into the sugar and let it sit with the butter for awhile before making the dough to enhance the flavor. 

The other major change I made was swapping out avocado oil for butter. I wanted to get a bit more ‘classic shortbread’ for these plus I wanted to ‘marinate’ the lemon into the butter to help really bring out that zesty flavor. 

So to sum up… 

Keys to an Extra Lemony Shortbread

  • Freshly grated lemon zest rubbed into granulated sugar (releases the oils from the zest) 
  • Lemon extract (adds lemon flavor without adding water) 
  • Resting the lemon with the butter (allows the butter to absorb the flavor from the zest and extract) 
  • Resting the dough (hydrates the flour and encourages the ‘lemon’ into the dry ingredients) 
  • A lemon glaze (uses fresh lemon juice) 

Recipe Ingredients 

Butter: We’re going to be a bit strict here and *only* use european style butter. This is because not only will the flavor of the butter be able to come through in a simple lemon shortbread like this, but that extra butterfat will  Kerrygold is readily available. 

Flour: We need a low protein all purpose flour, white lily is a good brand for this as it has a protein content of 9% (compared to KAF AP which is 11.7%). The finer mill of a flour like this and the lower protein count mean that less gluten forms when the ‘wet’ ingredients are mixed in. Less gluten = a finer, crumbly texture. 

*****If you cannot find a low protein flour you can use a combination of a high or medium protein content flour (like KAF) and cake flour, half of each (so 130g each flour). 

Lemons: Three fresh lemons. We mostly need the zest but if you’re doing a glaze you’ll use some of the juice as well. 

Granulated Sugar: Fine granulated, the granules are useful here to rub the lemon zest and force out their oils (kind of like making a scrub to exfoliate your skin). If your sugar isn’t fine but has larger granules it’s fine to use, the resulting shortbread will just have more ‘crisp’ to it. 

Powdered sugar: Sweetens the dough, is so finely processed that it easily melts into the butter. One thing I’m a stickler about is starch; it’s best to see that your powdered sugar is made with tapioca starch not cornstarch. Tapioca melts on the tongue, cornstarch has to be heated to melt. Powdered sugar brands that are made with tapioca: trader joes, wholesome, whole foods organic powdered sugar, good & gather organic powdered sugar and thrive market. They’re a bit more expensive but always worth it. 

Vanilla: pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste. You can also split and scrape a vanilla pod and use the seeds (caviar) inside. 

Lemon Extract: This is a *must* ingredient because it’s where a lot of our lemon flavor is coming from. No substitutes. Pick a good brand! I like the whole foods brand. 

Fine sea salt: quickly dissolves and actually tastes good (unlike table salt!). 

How to make lemon shortbread 

Start by zesting the lemon over the granulated sugar. Then, rub it between your fingers (this will release the oils). Add the lemon extract and vanilla and stir. You can leave it to rest for awhile or proceed.

Add the lemon sugar and the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer.

Affix the paddle attachment and beat the butter until light and creamed.

This is the first ‘rest’ for the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for at least an hour but up to four.

After the rest, add all the dry ingredients and begin mixing.

Mix until the dough mostly cleans the bowl and comes together.

Press the dough into a parchment lined metal square pan. You can also do this in a round 8 or 9 inch pan (which can then be cut into wedges) but always line with parchment.

Now it’s time for the second rest period, cover the pan with plastic wrap (ok to reuse the one you used earlier) and set it aside to rest for an hour. This will hydrate the flour and allow the lemon flavors to enhance.

Dock the shortbread all over with a fork (this prevents air bubbles). If you aren’t doing a glaze, sprinkle the top with granulated sugar.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden on the edges.

Out of the oven, use the parchment as a sling to lift out the shortbread. If you are doing a second bake for added crispiness, slice it now then place the shortbread on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Return it to the oven for another 8 minutes.

If you like your shortbread a bit softer, skip the second bake. Slice the shortbread into half, then fourths then eighths. Then slice those ‘sticks’ into thirds. You’ll have 24 cookies.

Once the shortbread is completely cool you can glaze it.

How long will the shortbread stay fresh? 

With the glaze on them I’d say a few days, if kept in an airtight container. Without the glaze they’ll last a week, also in an airtight container. For longer storage, freeze. I would avoid putting them in the fridge which can cause the shortbread to pick up other flavors and change the moisture levels. 

Can I make these with another citrus? 

Yes! Let’s go over some options: 

  • Lime Shortbread: swap the lemon zest for lime zest, keep the lemon extract (unless you have a really good lime extract) and use lime juice for the glaze. 
  • Orange Shortbread: use orange zest, you can do just two oranges (three if your oranges are small), orange extract (or almond for slightly different slant) and orange juice for the glaze. If you are using blood oranges the glaze will be pretty and pink! 
  • Grapefruit Shortbread: I find grapefruits a bit deceptive when it comes to zest, you might think you only need one because of the size of them but they’re thin skin usually means you get less zest. You want about two tablespoons of zest for the dough. 
  • Meyer Lemon: swap the lemons for meyers. Bear in mind, meyer lemons are less sharp and don’t quite have that bright flavor so the final bake will be more muted. 


Lemon Shortbread Topping Options 

Sugar: sprinkle some granulated sugar on top of the dough before baking. They’ll look like these salted vanilla shortbread. 

Glaze: Combine powdered sugar (organic, made with tapioca starch!) with a pinch of salt, vanilla and some freshly squeezed lemon juice. This is what’s pictured on this page. The added glaze is another opportunity to drive home that lemon flavor. 


Lemon Shortbread Recipe

Lemon Shortbread

Buttery crumbly shortbread that bursts with lemon flavor.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Rest Time: 3 hours
Yields: 24 cookies
5 from 3 votes


Lemon Shortbread

  • 65g or ⅓ cup fine granulated sugar
  • 3 lemons
  • 1 tsp lemon extract no substitutes!
  • 1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract depending on taste
  • 226g or 1 cup softened butter european style (Kerrygold) salted or unsalted (if salted reduce added salt to ¼ tsp)
  • ¾ tsp fine sea salt
  • 360g or 2 ¾ cups low protein* all purpose flour like White Lily (if you can't find it use half cake flour and half all purpose). To measure flour without a scale, fluff the flour with a fork then carefully sprinkle into the measuring cup and level.
  • 65g or ½ cup powdered sugar made with tapioca starch

Lemon Glaze

  • 130g or 1 cup powdered sugar made with tapioca starch
  • 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • Dash of pure vanilla extract or paste


At least a few hours before you’ll make the dough:

  • Pour the granulated sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and zest the lemons over it. Rub the zest into the sugar, doing this releases the oils (and flavors) of the zest. Add the lemon extract and vanilla and stir.
  • Add the butter and affix the paddle attachment. Beat the mix until creamed - about 3 minutes.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least an hour but up to four.

An hour before baking the shortbread:

  • Add the sea salt, powdered sugar and flour to the bowl and mix until no flour bits are visible and you have a soft dough. It should mostly clear the bowl.
  • Line an 8x8 inch square pan with parchment paper (two overlaying sheets so all sides are covered).
  • Press the dough into the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Use a rubber spatula to help you even it out, tuck the edges in. Cover the pan with plastic wrap to seal and set aside for 30-60 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Dock the dough with a fork (to prevent air bubbles). If you are not going to do a glaze, you can sprinkle the top with some granulated sugar for additional crunch. If you will do a glaze, leave the dough bare.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, until the edges are nicely golden.
  • Remove from the oven and very carefully lift out the dough using the parchment paper as a sling.
  • Slice the dough vertically into 8 strips (in half, then each of those in half and then in half again - see pics and video). Then slice horizontally into thirds (this will make 24 cookies).

You can stop here for a slightly more 'doughy' shortbread or proceed for a more crispy cookie:

  • Line a greased cookie sheet with parchment paper and set it next to your workspace.
  • Use a fish spatula or an offset spatula to carefully lift each shortbread onto the cookie sheet. Place them so there is a little bit of space between them (half an inch).
  • Bake for another 10 minutes. Let cool on pan.

If you are making the glaze

  • In a bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice. If the glaze is very thin, add more powdered sugar. If it’s too thick, add more lemon juice. Add a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla. The consistency should be like elmers glue.
  • Drizzle the glaze over the cooled shortbread. Alternatively, dip the shortbreads facedown into the bowl of glaze.

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