What says fall better than a buttery, melt-in-your mouth shortbread cookie? And during “pumpkin everything” season, pumpkin spice shortbread cookies are even more perfect. I embossed my cookies with some of my favorite things about fall.
If you’re anything like me, you plan your holiday baking months in advance, and these shortbread cookies are so versatile for so many occasions. You will also find that they do not taste excessively sweet (like a sugar cookie can be), and while they’re delicious plain or dusted with powdered sugar, they’re also ideal for decorating with sweet icings. I love using these for my decorated Christmas cookies as well.
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Tips for Perfect Shortbread Cookies
These pumpkin spice shortbread cookies are based on my classic shortbread cookie recipe, with a sprinkling of warm spices that are just right for these fall days. I far prefer them over sugar cookies when it comes to cutout cookies, because they hold their shape beautifully and don’t spread while baking.
When I’m making multiple batches of shortbread dough, like when I’m baking cookies to fill a Christmas cookie box, I will use a food processor. It makes the whole process so quick and easy, and the dough comes together in a breeze. But for a single small batch of dough, I really dislike having to clean my food processor (not to mention, it’s heavy to get down from its shelf). So a bowl and pastry cutter works just fine.
The key is to work quickly so that your hands don’t warm up and soften the butter as you’re making the dough. If that happens, just pop the bowl in the refrigerator for a few minutes to cool down your ingredients.
Don’t Roll Them Too Thin
It can be tempting to roll cookie dough too thin in order to cut more cookies, but it’s not a good idea when working with shortbread cookies. Shortbread is delicate and crumbly, and a thinner cookie will break much more easily. The perfect thickness for these is between 1/8-1/4 inch thick.
Keep Things Cold
Just as important as working quickly, is to make sure your ingredients are cold. The butter should be cold and hard from the refrigerator; you don’t want softened, greasy butter.
In addition to using cold butter, you also need to make sure your dough stays cool. Once the dough comes into a ball, you will need to immediately roll it out and cut your cookies. Since the dough is still cool, your cookies will cut cleanly with sharp, crisp edges.
After I cut all the cookies (and re-roll and cut the scraps, too), I place the cutouts on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I find that parchment is better than a silpat; both are non-stick, but a silpat will sometimes allow spreading simply because its surface is so slippery. But with parchment paper, the cookies will stay in place as they bake.
Then I place the entire baking sheet in my freezer (if I have room in there) for 30 minutes, or in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, to thoroughly chill before baking. This step guarantees that your cookies won’t spread in the least while baking, all the edges will remain sharp, and the cookies will stay the same size.
Watch the cookies carefully to make sure they don’t get over-baked. Things to look for are light, golden browning all over, flaky looking edges, and an even color throughout (no patches of wet-looking dough in the middle). You do not want dark brown, crispy edges; that would simply ruin your shortbread. If you can’t tell if your cookies are done from looking at the top, carefully pick one up and turn it over. Underneath, if it still looks wet and doughy, bake for a little longer until it’s baked through.
Because the shortbread isn’t over-baked, it stays soft and buttery, with the perfect melt-in-your-mouth crumbly texture. They are also wonderful with a variety of fillings such as ganache, buttercream or jam, if you want to make filled cookie sandwiches. And since this is a non-spreading cookie recipe, it’s perfect to use with cookie stamps or embossers.
Handle the Cookies Gently
Shortbread cookies are delicate, especially when warm. Transfer them carefully from the baking sheet to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before decorating. After they cool, they are still more delicate than a sturdy sugar cookie, so handle with care.
Embossing Shortbread Cookies
For the cutting and embossing, I used both an assortment of pie crust cutters (the type that have a spring-loaded plunger to easily release the dough) as well as my set of snap together alphabet embossers. This Sweet Elite set on Amazon is exactly what I use, and they work beautifully. The mini size is perfect for embossing cookies, and there are plenty of letters for making any combination of words I’ve used them for. I’ve even used them to stamp pie dough!
When rolling and cutting your cookies, be sure to stamp them before you chill the cookies prior to baking. A light dusting of flour on the embossers will keep them from sticking to your cookies as you press them into the dough. They make a deep impression in the dough, and with my no-spread shortbread cookie recipe, they hold their impression wonderfully.
Be sure to read all of my BAKING FAQs where I discuss ingredients, substitutions and common baking questions, so that you can be successful in your own baking!
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Pumpkin Spice Shortbread Cookies
- Cookie Cutters
- Rolling Pin
- Snap-Together Letter Embossers
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- ½ cup unsalted butter, cold
- 2 tbsp cream
- 1 tsp vanilla
- In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and spices. Scatter the pieces of butter over the flour mixture and then use a pastry cutter to cut the butter in thoroughly, until the texture resembles moist cornmeal. Add the cream and vanilla, and toss with a fork to distribute throughout.
- Dump the mixture out onto a clean work surface; it will be very dry and floury. Gather it together with your hands to rub the butter and liquid into the flour; continue scooping it together and kneading it gently but quickly, until it starts to stick and then comes together into a soft dough. Don’t over-work the dough. (Note that you can also make this dough more quickly in a food processor, stopping just when the dough comes together.)
- Lightly flour your work surface, press the dough out into a disk and flour the top as well. Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick. Use any shape or size of cookie cutter you like to cut your cookies, then gather up the scraps to re-roll and cut more cookies, until you’ve cut all the dough. Place the cutouts onto a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving 1 1/2 inches in between. Set the baking sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes, or in the refrigerator for at least an hour (preferably two hours) to chill before baking. Chilling the cutouts will help the cookies maintain their shape and not spread while baking.
- After the cutouts have chilled, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Depending on the size you cut them, they will take about 8-10 minutes to bake (mine were 2 1/2 inches and took 10 minutes to bake). The baked cookie will still be very pale on top, but the surface will no longer look like raw dough, and you should see tiny flaky layers around the edges. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for several minutes, and then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.
- Yields about 20 cookies, using a 2 1/2 inch cutter.