These Lemon Shortbread Cookies contain Meyer lemons for a delicate flavor, or use regular lemons for a sharper tang. Topped with a lemon glaze, they're a perfect balance of lemony, buttery delight in every bite!
Why this recipe works
- Add lemon juice and zest to a classic shortbread cookie recipe to add a bright flavor to a buttery cookie
- Top with a lemon glaze to really bring the lemon zing
Wintertime doesn’t have to be dull and dreary. Not when there are lemons about. That bright sunshine-y color and bold flavor drives away the winter blahs.
Take buttery homemade shortbread cookies, and add in a lemon. The tart acidic component lemons bring balances out the buttery richness in the shortbread. Now you’re really talking about brightening your day!
But wait, there’s more…you have a choice in the type of lemons you can use, especially this time of year. I’m talking about Meyer lemons.
What are Meyer lemons?
I remember as a girl my aunt had a lemon tree in her yard, and we would make lemonade from the fruit. I could never understand why that lemonade tasted less tart than I was used to. Turns out, that was a Meyer lemon tree.
According to that great purveyor of knowledge, Wikipedia, Meyer lemons are a cousin to regular lemons, just sweeter and less acidic. Brought to the US from China in the early 20th century, these lemons bring a more nuanced flavor than their usual counterparts. Think lemon tartness tempered with floral and bergamot notes.
While regular lemons are available year-round, Meyer lemons only show up in the US from mid-Winter to early Spring.
Baking with Meyer lemons
You can substitute Meyer lemons for regular lemons in your recipes calling for lemons and vice versa. Just remember to adjust to your desired sweetness and acidity when making changes.
One little Meyer lemon produces about three tablespoons of juice and one teaspoon of zest, plenty for your lemon shortbread recipe. I used a microplane grater and a citrus juicer to juice and zest citrus fruit.
What you need
A traditional shortbread recipe usually contains just four ingredients: butter, sugar, flour and salt. These lemon cookies add in both the juice and zest of one lemon to bring a zing.
This Lemon Shortbread recipe uses the same amount of sugar and butter as in my homemade shortbread recipe, and has a sweet lemon glaze that highlights the lemons' influence. Using Meyer lemons make the lemon flavor more delicate. That way, buttery shortbread goodness is balanced with lemony brightness.
How to make lemon shortbread
The method for making a Lemon Shortbread cookie recipe is almost the same as regular shortbread since there's only two additional ingredients.
Step 1: Make the cookie dough
Cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest together (photo 1). You want this mixture to be light and fluffy since we're not using any baking powder to leaven the cookies (like with these cinnamon roll sugar cookies).
Next, beat in the lemon juice and salt (photo 2).
Add in the flour and mix until just combined (photo 3). Don't overwork the dough so you don't develop the gluten structure too much.
Step 2: Portion & bake the dough
Portion out the dough into two tablespoon-sized balls using a medium cookie scoop, then flatten the dough with a fork in a crosshatch pattern
Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before baking. This allows the butter to firm up and keeps the cookies from spreading too much.
Bake the cookies at 350˚F for 20 to 23 minutes or until the cookies' edges are lightly browned. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the baking pan, then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely (photo 4).
Step 3: Glaze the cookies
Adding a lemon glaze to your lemon shortbread recipe ups the flavor punch, and gives a pretty shine to these cookies. After all, who doesn't love glaze?
Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl. Mix two tablespoons of juice with the powdered sugar in a small bowl, adding more juice or powdered sugar as needed to achieve a drizzling consistency.
When the cookies are completely cooled, move them back to a cooled baking pan. Drizzle the cookies with the glaze and let set for 15 minutes (photo 5).
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions that you might have...
You can freeze the dough after portioning and flattening them. Lay them on a baking pan (I line the pan with waxed paper first) and place in the freezer until firm (about 45 minutes). Remove the now-frozen balls to a freezer-safe ziplock bag until ready to use. They'll keep 3 to 4 months, at least.
To bake cookies from frozen, reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake about 5 minutes longer than normal. Follow the instructions for cooling and glazing.
Sure! Try limes or oranges for a different take.
Pro Tip: Make shortbread bars
You can make these shortbread cookies in the traditional bar form. Just press the dough into an 8- x 8-inch baking pan (for thicker bars) or a 9- x 9-inch baking pan (for thinner bars) that's been lined with parchment paper, leaving an overhang. Pierce the dough with a fork, then chill for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the dough is firm.
Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes, then cut into bars while they're still warm in the pan. Let the bars cool in the pan, then use the overhang to remove them from the pan. Glaze if desired.
Lemon and butter come together deliciously
Using Meyer lemons lend a delicate flavor to these buttery lemon shortbread cookies, both in the dough and in the glaze. If you want that sharper tang, by all means use regular lemons.
Either way, you’ll love how well the lemons and butter will complement each other, and that’s certain to brighten your day!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Lemons, limes, and oranges can add brightness and maybe even a mouth-puckering tanginess to your desserts. Whether the recipe contains fresh squeezed juice or a citrus-flavored extract, you'll want to try some of these citrus recipes!
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Glazed Lemon Shortbread Cookies
For the cookies
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest, from 1 lemon, see Recipe Notes
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
For the glaze
- 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ cup powdered sugar, sifted, plus more as needed
- Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line two half sheet baking pans with a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper.
- Make the cookies: In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), cream the butter, sugar, and zest together until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the lemon juice and salt. Add in the flour and mix until just combined.
- Portion out the dough into 2-tablespoon balls using a medium cookie scoop. Flatten the dough with a fork in a crosshatch pattern, then chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before baking. Chilling the cookies before baking firms up the butter and keeps the cookies from spreading too much.
- Bake for 20 to 23 minutes or until the cookies' edges are lightly browned. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the baking pan, then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Make the glaze: sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl. Mix two tablespoons of juice with the powdered sugar in a small bowl, adding more juice or powdered sugar as needed to achieve a drizzling consistency.
- When the cookies are completely cooled, move them back to a cooled baking pan. Drizzle the cookies with the glaze and let set for 15 minutes. Serve and enjoy!
- You can freeze the dough after portioning and flattening them. Lay them on a baking pan (I line the pan with waxed paper first) and place in the freezer until firm (about 45 minutes). Remove the now-frozen balls to a freezer-safe ziplock bag until ready to use. They'll keep for several months. To bake cookies from frozen, reduce the oven temperature to 325 °F and bake about 3 to 5 minutes longer than normal. Follow the instructions for cooling and glazing.
- You can also freeze the baked cookies (glazed or unglazed). They should keep for at least 1 to 2 months.