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Brown Sugar Shortbread Recipe

This delicate, buttery shortbread recipe uses brown sugar for a warmer, richer flavor than traditional shortbread. Cut the dough it into wedges or use as a cutout cookie recipe for a delicious holiday treat.

Occasionally someone on social media will get excited because it’s cold and the holidays are coming and that means that it’s “cookie season” again. And I just have to wonder…when did cookies go out of season? 

Shortbread is my idea of cookie perfection.  It’s simple and timeless, and this recipe has only 3 (with an optional 4th) ingredients that are pantry staples. You probably have all of them on hand, and can make these ridiculously easy brown sugar shortbread cookies in a matter of minutes.

Shortbread is a buttery, crumbly cookie that is a traditional Scottish recipe. We’re making a creative twist on the classic recipe by adding brown sugar instead of white sugar.

It’s perfect to enjoy with a mug of tea or hot chocolate, or maybe a bowl of hot chocolate ice cream! Get creative with sprinkling different colored sugars over the dough before baking to make them perfect for any season.

What is Shortbread?

Shortbread is a buttery, crumbly cookie that is a traditional Scottish recipe. They are simple to make with a short ingredient list, and a classic favorite cookie.

The brown sugar shortbread has a crumbly, soft texture with just a hint of chewiness.

The 3 Ingredients for Shortbread

The 3 ingredients for brown sugar shortbread--butter, brown sugar, and flour.


There aren’t many! That’s part of what I love about this recipe–it’s easy but turns out perfect every single time.

  • Salted Butter –Salted butter balances the flavor, and the salt adds depth. If you only have unsalted butter on hand, you can use it and cream ¼ teaspoon of salt in with the butter and sugar.
  • Brown Sugar –This is where we’re straying from the traditional shortbread recipe, but it’ll all work out! 
  • Flour– All-purpose works the best.
  • Vanilla Extract–This is optional, but a nice addition to the cookies.

Brown Sugar vs. White Sugar in Shortbread

Traditional shortbread recipes use white sugar, which gives a crumbly, soft texture. However, brown sugar has molasses in it, which adds flavor and moisture. This means that brown sugar shortbread is a bit chewier, and has a richer, more complex flavor.

You can use light or dark brown sugar. Dark has more molasses than light brown sugar, which means a stronger flavor and more moisture. Light brown sugar will give you a less chewy cookie and lighter flavor.

Brown Sugar Shortbread Cutout Cookies, some on the tray and some still being cut.

How to Make Brown Sugar Shortbread

  • Start by preheating the oven to 350F. Prepare whatever pan you’d like for the shape you wish to make.
  • Cream together the soft butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract 2-3 minutes, or until it’s fluffy and light. I like to use a hand mixer for this. If you don’t have one, you can definitely do it by hand! It’ll take a couple minutes more and you’ll get in a good arm workout.
  • Add in the flour and salt and mix until they are completely incorporated into the dough. It may look crumbly and dry at first, but keep mixing and it’ll all come together!
  • Shape and cut your shortbread, then dock it (poke it all over with a fork).
  • Sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar.
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes (longer if baking in a pan), or until the edges are golden brown and the centers don’t look wet and doughy anymore.
Poke the cut out shortbread cookies and sprinkle them with large-grain sugar.

How to Shape Shortbread

You’ve got options! Here’s a few, and you can pick which one works best for you.

  • Cutout cookies: This is what I did, because CHRISTMAS! Sprinkle a surface and rolling pin lightly with flour, the roll the dough into an even layer 1/4″ thick. Cut out as many as you can with cookie cutters and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Press together the remaining dough and repeat the rolling and cutting process until you’ve cut all of the dough.
  • Shortbread Wedges: This shape is a very traditional shortbread shape. Divide the dough in half, then press each half into a circle about 1/2″ thick. Use a large knife or pizza cutter to cut it into 8 sections, then dock each with a fork. You can pull the wedges slightly apart so they don’t join back together as they bake, or leave them together and recut them after they’re finished baking.
  • Pan Baking: Line an 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ baking pan with parchment paper and press the dough into it in an even layer. Poke all over with a fork (sensing a theme yet?) and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the center is no longer doughy and wet.
Cut the baked brown sugar shortbread into wedges

Tips and Tricks for Perfect Brown Sugar Shortbread

  • Use good butter with lots of flavor, since it’s one of the main components of shortbread. I also use salted butter in this recipe–I find it adds a depth of flavor that you can’t get with unsalted.
  • Make sure your butter is soft, but not oily. Besides a bit of vanilla, it’s the only “wet” ingredient in the recipe, so you need to make sure it’s able to bind all of the ingredients.
  • Shortbread has to be poked, or it will bubble up and become uneven during baking.  This is the fun part, because it’s a clean, simple way to add interest to your cookies. I went for simple fork marks in each snowflake stem, but you could use a drinking straw in the center, then the flat end of a toothpick for the smaller holes for a more elaborate design.
  • When baking the brown sugar shortbread, keep an eye on it to make sure that it’s done hwo you prefer it. Because of the brown sugar, it’s chewier than traditional shortbread and may need an extra couple of minutes in the oven to become crumbly.
  • Shortbread is egg free, so it makes a great option for anyone you know who has an egg allergy!

Other Cookie Recipes You May Enjoy:

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Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies

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  • Author: Rebecca Neidhart
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 18 cookies 1x


This delicate, buttery shortbread recipe uses brown sugar for a warmer, richer flavor than traditional shortbread. Cut the dough it into wedges or use as a cutout cookie recipe for a delicious holiday treat.


  • 8 Tbsp. soft unsalted butter (I recommend a high-quality brand)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Turbinado, or any other large-grain sugar, for sprinkling


In a large mixing bowl (you can also use a stand mixer if you’re doubling it), cream butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until smooth and fluffy.  Combine the flour and salt and slowly beat into the butter and sugar.  It may look crumbly and dry at first, but if you keep mixing it will eventually form a smooth dough.  Dough can be used immediately, or left in the refrigerator for up to a week.  If you a going to chill it, be sure to allow time for it to soften before it is baked.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough until it’s approximately 1/4″ thick.  At this point, you can cut out shapes (totally fun) or cut it into 2″ rectangles or squares (totally traditional). Just rock your final design, get them on the baking pans, then make sure to prick small holes  and give a sprinkling of turbinado sugar before putting the cookies in the oven.  Bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies, until the edges are beginning to turn golden brown and the centers don’t look dough-y.

Remove to cooling rack and enjoy!  These are best within a week, but they freeze beautifully for up to a month in an airtight container.

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Cookies
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Scottish
Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

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