This is a versatile chocolate shortbread recipe you can shape any way you like. The better the cocoa powder, the richer the chocolate flavor. It's a fun cut-out cookie for the holidays. Or any time of year as an after-dinner treat.
Shortbread is said to have Scottish origins, a preferred delight of Mary, Queen of Scots. Many traditional recipes include what Americans call cornstarch (corn flour in Western Europe). I leave it out, as in the United States corn is overly processed. For a fun, in-depth read on Scottish history, check out this write-up or this fun one by Gerard at Many Eats.
Perfect shortbread is crispy, crumbly and above all, buttery. And perfect shortbread cookies are easy to achieve using a variety of methods for making the dough. But I love the way rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients creates a beautiful, crispy yet airy crumb. So that's the technique for this particular recipe.
The most common shortbread method is to first cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the flour. That's the process for my almond shortbread cookies. But this chocolate version calls for the rubbing method (pie crust style). And it can be done with a food processor or even a mixer (why this one is so versatile).
However, this recipe also works well if you cream the butter and sugar first, then add in the dry ingredients. Be sure to whisk or sift the cocoa powder, confectioner's sugar, and flour together before mixing them in.
How to Cut and Shape
This shortbread dough can be cut into any size or shape cookie. Or pressed into a tart or baking pan at about a quarter-inch thickness. If you want a classic shortbread look, press the dough into a square baking pan lined with parchment paper. Then prick the top of the dough all over with a fork.
- Cut the butter small. The smaller the pieces of butter, the easier it will mix into the dry ingredients, and the better texture cookie you'll get.
- Sift or mix the dry ingredients well. Sift the dry ingredients to rid the cocoa powder and sugar of typical lumps. If you're using a food processor, you can skip sifting, and give the dry ingredients a good whir before adding the butter.
- Chill the dough. For any sugar or shortbread cookie, pie, or tart crust, chilling and resting the dough is key. It allows the proteins in the flour that toughen up during mixing to simmer down a bit and results in a more tender, crumbly texture.
- Sugar is best for rolling. For pie crust and many tart shell recipes, you use flour to roll the dough. But here, using confectioner's (powdered) sugar prevents the dough from absorbing too much flour and becoming tough.
- Roll quickly, and as little as possible. First, don't take this nugget of advice too strongly. However, the less you can roll any shortcrust dough, the better the final texture. If you feel the dough becoming at all elastic, pop it back in the fridge for a half hour, and begin again.
- Don't overbake the shortbread. Any shortbread recipe only needs a relatively short time in the oven. The cookies will still be soft when you take them out. But will harden as they cool.
As a cooking professional, I absolutely love versatile recipes. These chocolate shortbread cookies are much like basic sugar cookie dough in that you can roll and cut them into cookies. Or roll the entire batch out for a pie or tart crust, or even mini tarts.
During the holidays this shortbread can be dipped in melted chocolate or frosted and decorated as you would with sugar cookies.
If I'm writing honestly, chocolate shortbread cookies are best when enjoyed bite by crumbly, delicious bite. And after they've cooled to room temperature. But listen, we're talking about chocolate here, so you do you.
- ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more for rolling and cutting
- 1½ cups of all-purpose flour
- ⅔ cup of cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 8 ounces of unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into small cubes and softened slightly
- 1 tablespoon of milk or heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- Large crystal sugar sprinkles or coarse sea salt, optional
- Semi-sweet or dark chocolate, for melting and coating
- Sift the first four ingredients together and place them in a large bowl, a food processor, or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle.
- Add the butter cubes, and mix by hand or on low speed/short pulses until the mixture becomes sandy in texture.
- Combine the milk and vanilla in a small cup, and add to the dough.
- Continue kneading or mixing on low until the dough becomes a dense, cohesive mass (this shouldn't take long, and only a few pulses of the processor).
- Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and shape it into two, 6-inch rounds. You can make the dough several days ahead through this step. Wrap it tightly in plastic, and refrigerate or freeze it. Take the dough out of the refrigerator for 10 to 20 minutes before rolling it to let it soften (longer if you froze it).
- Between two pieces of parchment paper, roll the dough to ¼-inch thick (or a little thicker if you like a hefty cookie). Chill the rolled-out disc for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 325° F and line one or two baking pans with parchment paper.
- Dip your chosen cookie cutter in powdered sugar to prevent sticking and cut out your cookies. Coat the cutter in sugar before each new cut. Leave an inch of space between the cut cookies on the pan.
- Sprinkle the cookies with large crystal sugar or a couple of granules of coarse sea salt, if you like.
- Bake the cookies for 7 to 12 minutes on the center rack. The shortbread is baked when the shine has come off and the dough is just set. Cool your cookies for a couple of minutes on the baking pan, then completely on a rack. Let any traditional-style shortbread you baked in a square pan cool completely before turning out and cutting.
- Store the cookies at room temperature in an airtight container, or freeze them.
For Chocolate Coating
- Melt your chocolate in a small bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water. Or in 30-second bursts in the microwave, stirring frequently.
- Dip the baked shortbread cookies or shapes in the melted chocolate, and set them on a rack to let the chocolate harden. You can also set the cookies on a rack and drizzle the melted chocolate on top.
- Garnish the dipped cookies with sugar sprinkles or sea salt while the chocolate is still warm.
On Baking Time
Any shortbread recipe only needs a relatively short time in the oven. The cookies will still be soft when you take them out. But will harden as they cool.
This dough can be cut into any size or shape cookie. Or pressed into a tart or baking pan at about a ¼-inch thickness. If you want a classic shortbread look, press the dough into a square baking pan lined with parchment paper and prick the top of the dough all over with a fork. Let shortbread baked in a pan cook completely before turning it out and cutting it. This recipe makes more than enough for one 8-inch square pan of shortbread. So freeze the leftovers or roll and cut them into cookies.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 7 to 12 minutes
- Category: Cookies
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: French
- Diet: Vegetarian
- Serving Size: 1 shortbread square
- Calories: 190
- Sugar: 6 g
- Sodium: 253.6 mg
- Fat: 13.2 g
- Carbohydrates: 17.8 g
- Protein: 2.1 g
- Cholesterol: 33.6 mg
Keywords: chocolate shortbread cookies, chocolate shortbread
More Chocolate Recipes
I'd love it if you signed up for my twice-monthly newsletter! As of July 2023, I'm sending a new Half-Scratch recipe every month via my Substack. After much thought and research, the reader-supported platform is where I can best connect with families and communities and share recipes and insight free from advertisers, sponsors, or brands.
Every recipe is nutrient-dense, versatile, affordable and at least half from scratch (50% fresh ingredients). I also include a simply cooking formula or technique you can add to your repertoire. My goal is to empower you to make better choices at the grocery store and cook confidently without your eyes glued to a screen or piece of paper. Please consider supporting my efforts to break the mold of the ad-littered, brand-influenced recipe platform.