Holiday Shortbread Recipe

If you are looking for an impressive, yet easy, Christmas Cookie Recipe, look no further than my Holiday Shortbread Recipe. This is such an impressive holiday cookie idea that's SO easy to do because the shortbread pan does all the work for you!

For this recipe, I used Nordicware's Snowflake Shortbread Pan. But really any shortbread pan will do! These cookies are not only melt-in-your-mouth delicious, but they make a great food gift too.

Looking for more cookies that make for great gifts? Try my Foolproof French Macaron Recipe, Madeleine Recipe, Pumpkin Pie Spice Biscotti, or my Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe

Holiday shortbread cookies with snowflake design on a brown cutting board

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Shortbread Pan Designs

  • As far as shortbread pans go, there are so many cute designs to choose from, but for Christmas, I just can't resist the snowflake design, and just like real snowflakes, they are each a little bit different!
  • But you might also enjoy this fruit and floral shortbread pan as well. 

Snowflake Shortbread pan from Nordicware for a Holiday Shortbread Recipe

Why You'll Love This:

  • These cookies don't just look good they taste delicious too!
  • They are light and buttery, with a faint hint of orange coming from the orange zest, and did I mention how they just melt in your mouth!
  • The texture is similar to my sable crust in my Strawberry Pistachio Tart which is a fancier dressed-up version of a shortbread crust. 

Cutting a Holiday Shortbread Recipe into squares

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Step#1: Cream the Butter

  • A major component of this recipe is the butter! It's important that the butter is at room temperature. This will help it combine best with the other ingredients.
  • If you live in the U.S.A I would recommend salted butter. American salted butter is more flavorful than salty.
  • But if you are outside the States I would use unsalted butter since salted butter in other parts of the world can be pretty salty! 

a person adding butter to a stand mixer

Flavor the Shortbread with Orange Zest

  • A little orange zest in the dough makes these cookies even more flavorful and festive! I do this trick in my Pecan Bars with Shortbread Crust and everyone agrees it's the best part! 
  • Shortbread cookies don't have a strong flavor, aside from the butter. They are really more of a textural sensation.
  • For this, the orange zest gives them another bit of interest without overpowering them.
  • Or you could also dip the bottoms of these cookies in chocolate after they are baked, that would also be a nice addition too!

an orange being zested with a microplane

Step#2: Add Dry Ingredients

After the butter and sugar mixture is fluffy, you'll add the orange zest, the vanilla, and then dry ingredients. Beat the ingredients well, since the dough at first will be crumbly. But once the butter is incorporated with the dry ingredients it will come together.

adding dry ingredients to a stand mixer

Step#3: Refrigerate Dough

Once the dough comes together, roll it into a ball and then a disk. Then wrap it up and refrigerate it for one hour. Refrigeration is important for helping the cookies keep their shape and the shape of the pattern once they are baked. 

A person pressing shortbread dough down onto parchment paper

Step#4: Press the Dough in the Pan

Once the dough has been refrigerated, press it into the pan. It doesn't need to be one perfect sheet of dough, it can be pieces at this stage. It's more about getting all the dough in the shortbread pan. So don't worry if it looks a bit patchyworky. 

a person pressing dough into a shortbread pan

Leveling Out the Dough

  • In this next stage, this is where you will level out the dough into the pan.
  • Place the palm of your hand on top of the dough to flatten it out, and make the dough an even layer, turning the pan as needed.
  • This will allow the dough to impress itself into the pattern in an equal way. 

pressing dough into pan

Clean Up The Edges

The last step of leveling the dough is to go around the edges of the shortbread pan and press down the dough so that none of it rises above the border. This will give the cookies nice clean edges after the shortbread is baked. 

Finger pressing dough dough in a holiday shortbread pan

Why Do you Need to Dock Shortbread Dough?

  • Docking shortbread dough is to prevent the cookies from bubbling up when baking. It also helps the cookies bake evenly and prevents them from sticking to the pan. 
  • Just before baking, dock the dough with a fork, all around the surface of the dough.
  • Since the decorative pattern is on the other side, you won't notice these marks once the cookies are baked. 

a fork docking shortbread dough in a pan

Step#5: Bake and Cool

  • Place the shortbread in the oven at 325F. This is another tip when baking shortbread, the oven cannot be too hot.
  • While most cookies bake at 350F, I've found shortbread, because of its delicate texture, does better at 325F.
  • That way it can bake through, without becoming too browned. If it's too golden brown, it will be harder to see the delicate snowflake pattern on the other side. 

placing shortbread pan in the oven to bake

How to Release the Shortbread from the Pan?

This is where some folks have trouble. This typically comes down to 3 critical issues.

  • The cookies were not baked all the way through in the center. Underbaked cookies will stick to the pan
  • The cookies cooled too long in the pan. Shortbread is best released when still a bit warm, but not too hot to handle. It is more fragile the longer it cools.
  • Not using a non-stick pan. I find the best shortbread pans are non-stick, especially for decorative designs. If yours is not then be sure to spray it well with baking spray first. 

a shortbread pan cooling on cooktop with freshly baked shortbread

Step#6: Release and Slice!

The easiest way to release the cookies is to place a cutting board on top of the pan and flip it.

a person placing a cutting board onto of pan to flip it over and release shortbread

You can then gently shake the pan, from side to side, tap gently on the bottom, and then lift the pan up. 

releasing shortbread from a pan

Slice the Cookies When Warm

  • Don't wait until the cookies are completely cooled to slice.
  • It's better to slice the cookies, as soon as they are released from the tin and still a bit warm.
  • This will ensure smooth edges that won't be too crumbly. The cooler the cookies become the more crumbly the texture becomes.

Holiday Shortbread Recipe

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Holiday Shortbread Cookie on a Wooden Board

Holiday Shortbread Cookies

Yield: 9 cookies
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 27 minutes
Total Time: 57 minutes

Wonderful Holiday Shortbread Cookies that make for terrific Christmas Cookies for gifting! So easy because the pan does all the work for you!


  • ¾ cup (180 g) butter
  • ½ cup (50 g) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) salt
  • 2 teaspoon (10 ml) orange zest
  • 1 ½ (180g) cups flour


  1. Whip butter until fluffy, add sugar, beat to combine. Add vanilla, salt and orange zest. Beat together. Add flour. Beat until really well combined.
  2. Roll into ball. Wrap in parchment or plastic. Refrigerate 1 hour.
  3. Press into pan. Prick with a fork.
  4. Bake at 325F (175C) 25-27 mins. Allow to cool for 15 mins.
  5. Place cutting board on top of pan and flip over. Cut shortbread into squares while still warm.


How to Release the Shortbread from the Pan?

I find this is the time when some folks have trouble, releasing the cookies with the pattern intact. This typically comes down to 3 critical issues.

  • The cookies were not baked through in the center. This will cause them to stick to the pan
  • The cookies cooled too long in the pan. These are best released when still a bit warm, but not too hot to handle.
  • Greasing the pan with butter instead of baking spray. I find the best baking spray to use is Pam Baking Spray. I think it works the best! And be sure the also brush it on with a pastry brush into all the crevices for added insurance. 



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  1. I think this shortbread recipe is really good with the orange flavor. Is there any reason why you don't press the dough into the pan while it's soft then refrigerate it in the pan? It seems as though it would be more likely to get the details of the imprints better & save you the time & effort later when the dough is cold and stiff. Just a thought. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

    1. What a great idea! I have never thought to do that! But I think you are right, it could help create a deeper impression on the design. I'm going to try that next time 🙂 Thanks for sharing Cindy!

  2. I made these cookies tonight and they came out perfect! I've made a couple of cookies this season with orange in it. Could these be made without the orange zest? I'm looking for a more butter cookie taste.

  3. Love! This recipe. I’ve had the Nordic pans for years, but lost the recipe that came with them and they’ve just sat in my specialty pan cabinet.

    I tried two variations and both were great! Replaced half of the vanilla extract with orange or lemon extract and they were amazing.

    Thanks again for posting!

    1. I'm so glad! I just love these pans! They do all the work for you ha! So glad you enjoyed the recipe 🙂 Love the idea of the orange/lemon extracts!

  4. hi beth!!
    love love LOVE your posts. your recipes hit all the right notes.
    i just drooled over your choc/vanilla sugar cookie recipe as well and i have a quick question. i recently bought one of those gorgeous embossed rolling pins and i'm desperate to find the right cookie recipe. any chance you've tried one of your cookie recipes with that type of rolling pin?
    THNX for all your inspiration - pam

    1. I'm so glad you enjoy the recipes Pam! It's funny you ask about those fancy rolling pins. I too bought one a few years back and played around with it in my Gingerbread Cookie Recipe. And I couldn't get the impression to show up that well? But I may not have had a very high-quality one. I think there is a range of quality there, I'm betting the deeper the carvings the better the impressions! But sure you should give yours a go either with the gingerbread or the choco/vanilla sugar cookie dough I just posted. I think this shortbread recipe would probably be a bit too crumbly. This dough is better with a shortbread pan to make the impression. Hope that helps, keep me posted, and happy holidays! 🙂

  5. Hi Beth, I am having trouble with getting the impression from the pan right. I used a light spray Baker’s joy in the pan and then pressed the dough well into the pan as instructed. I baked it for 25 minutes and cooled for 15. The cookies were definitely darker than yours and with no clear design from the pan. Also, the cookies were delicious, but almost a little too tender because the corners crumbles and fell apart. Can you give me any suggestions on something to try to make them come out nicer?

    1. Oh no! OK a couple of questions. 1.) Did you use the same pan? Mine has a nice non-stick surface to it which helps with the release, if not I would look for pans with a nice non-stick coating like this one and 2.) I would use Pam Baking Spray with Flour. I find it tends to work better for things like this that need an effortless release 🙂

      1. Yes, I do have the same non stick Nordic Ware pan and I did use Baker's Joy which has flour in it. Do you think chilling the dough after it is pressed in the pan would help to make the impressions clear?
        Thank you for your reply.😊

    1. If you are in the USA I recommend salted Butter Land O Lakes is my favorite for this recipe. But if you are outside the USA I say to use unsalted. Mainly because American Salted Butter is really more "Flavorful" than salty, whereas outside the USA salted butter can be really salty! I hope that helps!

        1. If you are using American salted butter I would decrease to 1/8 tsp if it is outside the USA I would eliminate the salt. (American butter is less salty than other international butters) I hope that helps!

  6. That calorie information cannot be correct lol.....unless it is the calorie content of the pans advertised - lol!

    1. Oh my no! Ha! That isn't accurate. It's an old recipe plugin that is clearly going haywire! I need to actually delete the recipe and reupload it to have it be accurate! Putting it on my To-Do list! Thanks for flagging!

  7. Finally a shortbread recipe for my snowflake tins. I have tried several. Yours is the best! Thank you.

    If I wanted a thicker cookie by doubling the dough, how long do you think I should bake it?

    1. hmm maybe 40-45 mins? You may not need to double the dough though since it may not all fit in this tin 🙂 Maybe 1.5x 🙂 Hope you enjoy!

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