I find these cookies impossible to resist. Buttery shortbread with a tender crumb is cut into eye-catching shapes—stars are my favorite. Make all the cookies a uniform size, or vary the size of the stars and have a plateful of big stars and tiny ones. Any fun cookie cutter will work. One year I even made these in the shape of dog bones. You can also add sweet spices, nuts, or even finely ground espresso beans to enhance the flavor of the cookies. For example, add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the flour for a cinnamony shortbread, or substitute 1/4 cup finely ground pecans, hazelnuts, or walnuts for 1/4 cup of the flour. Or, for a deliciously intense espresso shortbread, substitute 1/4 cup extra finely ground espresso-roast coffee for 1/4 cup of the flour. It’s time to put on your baking apron and play.
Makes about 3 1/2 dozen shortbreads
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature for 30 minutes, cut into small cubes
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar sifted
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, add the salt and flour, and mix just until the flour disappears, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl once with a rubber spatula. Do not over mix. The dough should look dry. Form the dough into a disk about 3/4 inches thick and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.
Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking liners, or use nonstick sheets. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Using a star cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible. (I have a nesting set of star cutters and make star cookies in various sizes.) Place the cookies close together but not touching (the cookies do not spread) on the prepared baking sheets. Gather up the dough scraps, lightly dust with flour and sugar if needed, reroll the dough, and cut out cookies until all the dough is used. Refrigerate the baking sheets for 1 hour.
Position one rack in the center and another rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Bake the cookies until firm but not brown, 25 to 30 minutes, switching the pans between the racks and rotating them 180 degrees at the midpoint if the cookies appear to be baking unevenly. The cookies should be lightly golden on the bottom but not have any browning at the edges. Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely.
Store the cookies in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature. The cookies can be frozen up to 1 month.