5-Ingredient Strawberry Shortbread Is Prettiest in Pink

May 29, 2018

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, wow factor. Psst: We don't count salt or cooking fat (say, olive oil to sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. This time around, we're making strawberry shortcake shortbread, the cutest lil' cookie that ever was.

It seemed like a simple idea: What if strawberry shortcake were actually strawberry shortbread? Ditch the sugary biscuits for buttery cookies. Replace slouchy cream with drippy glaze. Swap out fresh berries for freeze-dried. Easy, right?

Then I started testing.

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My first couple of rounds went totally according to plan. But it turned out to be a bad plan. This happens. The freeze-dried strawberries—same as those crispy chips in cereal boxes—soaked up the cream like they’d wandered the desert for days. And maybe they had. The fresh ones, meanwhile, happy-wept their juices, slipping and sliding, this way, that way. Both were adorable and Instagrammable. But also impractical.

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Top Comment:
“I'm afraid the cookies will break because it will be difficult to get them out of the pan.”
— Carol

And besides, the flavor wasn’t there. You know where there is—that asparagus you couldn’t stop eating, that cake you’ve made a million and one times.

It’s all well and good to begin recipe development with a pun—little cheeky, little silly—maybe it made you smile. (I said maybe.) But if puns alone were delicious, we would eat those instead of cookies. And we don’t.

Get those ducks in a row. Photo by Ty Mecham

Which is to say, we want to make strawberry shortbread—“Get it?!” you tell your friends and they giggle, they laugh, they howl—but we want to devour strawberry shortbread. Know what I mean? We want the fruit to be present and punchy and the color, so pretty, too pretty, almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

So we’ll try, try, try again.

Instead of using the freeze-dried strawberries as a garnish, use them, well, everywhere. Pulse into salty shortbread dough, where they turn into the pinkest flour that ever was. Blitz into fairy dust to mix with thick cream and powdered sugar, to yield a blushing glaze. And shake, shake, shake on top like sprinkles, or glitter.

Muffin pan, what can't you do?! Photo by Ty Mecham

Such is the big in Big Little Recipes. Use one ingredient. Then use it again. And again. This way, when you say strawberry shortbread, you can really mean it, with confidence and conviction.

Shortbread is often baked large-format—say, in an 8- by 8-inch pan—then sliced into squares or rectangles just out of the oven. But here, I streamlined the process, thanks to a trick from the queen of cookies, Dorie Greenspan, who bakes her signature sablé “jammers” in muffin tins. This ensures professional-ish uniformity, guarantees crispy edges, and eliminates the extra step of cutting, which can get real crumbly, real fast.

One for you. The rest for me! Photo by Ty Mecham

After they cool completely, turn them upside-down and glaze. It will feel wrong at first, but look so much lovelier, trust me. By making the bottom the top and the top the bottom, you create a domed structure, giving the glaze a slope to slide down, like a kid at a waterpark.

Unlike strawberry shortcake, which demands your attention now—like hi, hello, right now—strawberry shortbread is patient. It will wait on you, cheerily, for hours. Though I have a feeling you won’t want to wait on it.

What’s your favorite shortbread variety? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Lisaaw June 11, 2018
I never think to put shortbread in individual muffin tins. I have a stack of tins that are more of a tart/muffin tops that I bought at a used store years ago I am definitely going to use for shortbread cookies. I am guessing that these could also be easily rolled into logs, chilled and sliced.
Emma L. June 11, 2018
Shortbread in a muffin-top pan sounds amazing! I haven't tried this recipe in logs, but should work. If you try, let me know!
These look incredible! Would this recipe work if I wanted to use a cookie cutter to shape the cookies?
Carol June 3, 2018
This recipe sounds great and I can't wait to make it. Should I grease the pan? I'm afraid the cookies will break because it will be difficult to get them out of the pan.
Emma L. June 3, 2018
Hi Carol! No need to worry—shortbread is so buttery, it basically greases the pan for you. The recipe video shows how easy it is to remove the cookies from the pan, too. If you want *extra* insurance, greasing with a little butter or non-stick spray obviously couldn't hurt. Just not necessary.