Whipped Shortbread Cookies Recipe (Traditional + Vegan Recipe)
There are certain foods that are just synonymous with Christmas time because you’ll rarely, if ever, eat them at any time of year. Shortbread cookies tend to make that list for most people.
That’s the case for me, anyway. The only time I ever remember eating shortbread while growing up was at Christmas. My great aunt always gifted everyone a repurposed cookie tin full of homemade shortbread cookies (she still does) and there always seemed to be a tray of rum balls and shortbread cookies on the table at every family gathering.
There’s something warm and comforting about shortbread, probably because of the association with family and the holiday season. Naturally, I wanted to be the one to carry on the Christmas shortbread cookie tradition in my own family, so I asked my great aunt for her recipe last year.
The problem is, her recipe uses vegetable shortening (instead of butter), which is highly processed, and also full of trans fats (which are the bad kind that have been linked to heart disease and high cholesterol, in case you didn’t know).
I figured that maybe shortbread got its name from the vegetable shortening, and decided not to make the recipe after all. But after doing a little research, I learned that shortbread is simply a cookie (aka. biscuit) that has a high fat content (the traditional ratio for shortbread cookies is 1 part sugar to 2 parts fat to 3 parts flour), and that fat can be anything from butter to lard to coconut oil, and yes, sadly, vegetable shortening too.
So, why is it called shortbread?
Shortbread is thought to have originated in Scotland in the 12th century, and while there’s some debate over where the term “shortbread” came from, the general consensus is that it’s either called so due to the high shortening content (which technically means any type of fat that’s solid at room temperature, including butter, lard and coconut oil), or because of the “short” texture of the dough, which is a term used to describe flaky, buttery pastries.
You see, with bread dough, you want those long strands of gluten to form to give you a moist, chewy finished product that holds together well. But with shortbreads, including pie crust and other pastry doughs that you want to be light and flaky, you want to inhibit the gluten strands from forming to keep the dough from getting to hard or tough.
The best way to do this is with fat (aka. shortening) because fat coats gluten proteins and prevents them from forming long strands. This is why fat (cold fat in particular) is such an important component of a good pie crust.
But by no means do you have to use vegetable shortening. Nor should you.
After all, processed, hydrogenated vegetable shortening is a 20th century invention (by a major pharmaceutical company, by the way, which says a lot about it as a “food” product”), but shortbread has been dated back to the 12th century, so for 800 years people did without the vegetable shortening and made shortbread cookies with natural shortening (mainly butter) which is what this recipe uses.
A modern twist on an old classic
This year for Christmas, I decided I wanted to give shortbread cookies another chance, and my (other) aunt just so happened to mention her whipped shortbread cookies recipe to me when I was visiting. Naturally, my ears perked up and I had to know more.
The secret, she said, is in the whipping. You’ve gotta whip the shortbread cookie dough for 10 whole minutes. The whipping helps to aerate the dough and keep it so light and fluffy and buttery that it practically melts in your mouth.
The best part is, this recipe only uses sugar, flour, a pinch of salt, an optional splash of vanilla and REAL BUTTER! No hydrogenated vegetable shortening. No cornstarch (another popular ingredient in shortbread cookies) and no complicated ingredients to worry about.
And OMG. They are THE BEST shortbread cookies I’ve ever eaten, hands down.
Simple ingredients, outstanding flavour
Now, technically the whipped shortbread cookies recipe that I got from my aunt only has sugar, butter and flour, and as long as you stick to that 1:2:3 part ratio, you’ll get perfect shortbread cookies in the end. But I found that an extra pinch of salt and a teaspoon of vanilla were just what this shortbread recipe needed to take it from good to drool-worthy.
Because while fat is important for flavour, salt is a flavour enhancer that can take food of all kinds to a whole new level.
That being said, I always use salted butter. I know most baking recipes call for unsalted butter, but I like and use the salted stuff, and I still tend to add a little more salt to my recipes to really make the flavours shine.
However, if you’ve got a real salt aversion, you can always use unsalted butter and omit any extra salt. But if you’re looking for that rich, buttery flavour, I have to say my husband and I are both a fan of using salted butter and an extra ¼ teaspoon of salt. I tried 4 different batches with various alterations on the original recipe, and this was the money batch.
I also tested out a coconut oil version too in case you don’t eat dairy (or are looking for a pantry substitution).
The coconut oil batch came out good, but not quite as light and crumbly as the butter cookies. Nor were they quite as flavourful as the butter-based shortbread cookies. In fact, if you use coconut oi, I would recommend increasing the salt to ½ teaspoon. And if you don’t want the subtle coconut flavour of unrefined coconut oil, you can use refined coconut oil instead. But the coconut flavour isn’t overpowering and I actually think it compliments the shortbread cookies nicely:)
Either way, coconut oil is a perfect substitute for anyone who doesn’t eat butter. Definitely better than partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening! *Blech*
How to make whipped shortbread cookies
Whipped shortbread cookies are super easy to make. All you do is cream together 1 cup of room temperature butter of softened coconut oil and ½ cup of icing sugar, as well as 1 teaspoon of vanilla (which is optional but recommended).
Then add in 1½ cups of all-purpose flour and ¼ teaspoon of salt and whip for 10 minutes. It’s easiest to use a stand mixer for this as you can let it run for 10 minutes while you do other things, but it is possible to use a food processor or an electric hand mixer as well.
You may need to stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl a couple times throughout the process. But other than that this part is hands-off if you’re using a stand mixer.
If you haven’t done so yet, while you’re whipping your cookie dough, preheat the oven to 350ºF (176ºC) and lightly grease a baking sheet.
Once the 10 minutes are up and your dough has finished whipping, form it into cookies by either rolling tablespoon-sized chunks into a ball and pressing down slightly with your fingers or a fork, or simply spoon tablespoonfuls directly onto your prepared baking sheet for more rustic looking cookies.
My aunt says she spoons her dough on because it’s too soft to handle, but I tested 4 batches this week and I was able to handle the dough from every batch quite easily. If your dough is too soft to handle or to form into a ball, then you can either spoon it onto our baking sheet or place it in the fridge for a few minutes until it hardens up just a bit.
From here you can either bake your cookies as they are or press your finger into the middle to make a small indent and then place a candied cherry or a dollop of jam inside. Then bake for 10-12 minutes, until the bottom just begins to turn golden brown.
Variations and add-ins to whipped shortbread cookies
Many shortbread recipes call for a maraschino cherry in the middle. If you do choose to add a cherry, keep in mind that there’s usually corn syrup, artificial dyes and all sorts of other garbage in store-bought maraschino cherries.
Instead, I used my homemade amaretto cherries in my cookies and they worked really well! I tried using them straight out of the jar but found that they were still too moist when I put them directly onto the cookie dough and baked them as-is. However when I baked my next batch, I put my cherries on a little parchment paper and dried them in my oven at 200ºF (93ºC) for half an hour and then baked them on top of the cookies and they came out much better.
I also tried filling a couple of my cookies with some homemade strawberry vanilla jam, which was delicious, but the jam did bubble up and run down the sides of the cookie a little bit.
Or, of course, you can just enjoy these whipped shortbread cookies in all their simple glory. Because regardless what you top them with (or whether you top them at all), these are still the very best shortbread cookies I’ve ever eaten, by far.
And since you probably just scrolled past that whole long-winded explanation of WHY these whipped shortbread cookies (with a pinch of salt) are the best shortbread cookies EVER, well then, here’s the recipe 😉
So tell me, what’s your favourite Christmas cookie or treat? Let me know in the comments below!
Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂
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