These are the best earl grey shortbread cookies! They're buttery, tender, and easy to make.
We tested many batches of tea flavored shortbread cookies with friends and family, to land on a reliable and crowd-pleasing recipe. These cookies hold their shape during baking (the shortbread won't spread or flatten). Cornstarch makes them tender and you can use salted or unsalted butter. This delicious "london fog" inspired shortbread is perfect for a sweet snack, dessert, holidays, and gifting.
Why this recipe works
- Deliciously flavoured shortbread: The ground tea leaves, from earl grey tea bags, infuses a light and yummy flavor to the buttery shortbread cookies.
- Salted butter for convenience and flavor: There's no need to go out an buy unsalted butter! We tested this shortbread recipe using both salted butter, and unsalted butter with added sea salt. We preferred the salted butter version, but unsalted butter works too.
- Cornstarch makes a reliably tender cookie: Adding cornstarch makes a lighter, more tender cookie. Some shortbread recipes call for store-bought powdered (icing) sugar, because cornstarch is added to it (as an anti-caking agent). But there are a few downsides of using powdered sugar: 1) You need to sift it to remove clumps, 2) You don't know how much cornstarch is making it into the dough, and 3) Powdered sugar is hard to accurately measure without a scale! This is why we prefer to use regular granulated sugar and add cornstarch separately.
- Rolling the dough flat makes it faster to chill: Some recipes call for shaping shortbread into a thick log for chilling and slicing. While this method does work, often the middle of the log can be crumbly or have big air pockets, which you'd only notice after you slice the cookies for baking. We avoid this by rolling the dough into a flat sheet. The dough cools faster rolled flat, and it's easy to cut into perfectly shaped cookies.
Ingredients and substitutes
- Salted butter: Use slightly softened (but not melted) butter for this. In tests, we preferred the cookies made with salted butter—but you can substitute unsalted butter and add your own salt. See recipe notes for details.
- Light brown sugar: We add a spoonful of brown sugar to give the cookies more depth of flavor. Use light brown sugar, if you can, to keep the cookie dough pale. In a pinch, you can use more granulated sugar instead of the brown sugar.
- Earl grey tea: We usually just cut open basic earl grey tea bags for this, because you want to use a fine powder. But, you could instead use loose leaf tea—just make sure to first grind it into a powder using a small spice grinder. Then, measure the ground tea and use as directed.
Find the recipe card below for the complete recipe, including all ingredients and instructions.
How to make (step-by-step photos)
Find the recipe card below for the complete recipe, including all ingredients and instructions.
Tips for baking shortbread
- Don't overmix the dough: Mix only until the dough starts to come together into a shaggy/crumbly mixture. Then use a light hand when rolling out and shaping the dough. Overmixing can result in a tougher cookie.
- Chill the dough: Properly chilling the dough helps prevent it from spreading in the oven. We prefer to use the freezer, rather than the fridge, because it cools the dough down faster.
- Poke with a fork before baking: This helps steam escape, for an evenly baked cookie that doesn't puff up. (If you want a more pronounced fork pattern after baking and sprinkling with sugar, you can re-poke the same area with the fork again).
- Use parchment paper: We recommend using parchment paper underneath the cookies to prevent sticking, rather than greasing the baking sheet directly. Introducing too much oil can encourage the cookies to spread.
- Use a scale if you have one: A scale is more accurate than measuring by volume (measuring cups). Flour, in particular, is an ingredient prone to error (...usually too much flour is added). For the best results, use a scale when baking. If you don't have a scale, make sure to fluff up the dry ingredients with a fork before spooning into measuring cups.
Earl Grey Shortbread with Orange Glaze (variation)
Earl Grey tea is flavored with bergamot orange, so the tea's light citrus notes pair really well with this easy Orange Royal Icing. As an option, you can drizzle these cookies with glaze after they've cooled.
Sometimes we make a double batch of cookies just so we can decorate half and leave the other half plain. Why choose when you can have both?!
Frequently asked questions
Regular all-purpose flour contains gluten, which gives baked goods their structure. But, if you add too much flour or overwork the dough, it could get dense! Cornstarch, on the other hand, is gluten-free. When cornstarch is mixed with flour, it helps create a lighter, more tender shortbread cookie.
Note: Cornstarch is added to store-bought icing (powdered) sugar as an anti-caking agent. So, shortbread recipes that call for icing sugar also benefit from the trace amounts of cornstarch added during processing. But, when using icing sugar, it is hard to know exactly how much cornstarch is being added. For the most consistent results—and for a higher ratio of cornstarch—we prefer adding it separately, like in this Earl Grey Shortbread recipe.
Shortbread cookies don't necessarily need icing, but they are delicious with either a vanilla or Orange Royal Icing. When icing shortbread cookies, make sure to let them fully cool before decorating.
Shortbread can last much longer than other types of cookies. Homemade shortbread cookies are best enjoyed within 2 weeks. Keep them in a resealable container or bag at room temperature.
Yes, you can easily freeze shortbread cookies! We recommend freezing the raw shortbread cookie dough, after it has been rolled and cut into squares. Then, bake the portioned dough from frozen. It may take an extra minute or so for the frozen cookies to bake, so just keep an eye on them and adjust if needed.
Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies
- ½ cup salted butter (slightly softened, see note 1)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar (more for sprinkling)
- 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar (see note 2)
- 2 teaspoons finely ground earl grey tea (see note 3)
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Mix: Use an electric mixer to cream butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Mix in tea and vanilla. Then add flour and cornstarch. Mix just until a crumbly dough forms.
- Roll: Gently bring the dough together into a ball using your hands. (It'll be crumbly at first, but it'll come together after gently kneading). Roll the dough on parchment paper, until it's (1x) 8-inch (20 cm) square. (You can use a knife to trim excess dough and fill in any short spots if needed).
- Chill and preheat oven: Use the parchment paper to slide the dough onto a baking sheet. Freeze for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
- Cut and bake: Cut the chilled dough into 16 squares, about 2-inches (5 cm) each. Poke each cookie 3 times with a fork. Arrange the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake until the edges are set and pale golden, about 12 minutes.
- Sprinkle and cool: Immediately sprinkle the cookie tops with extra granulated sugar (see note 4). Let cool completely, then lift from the baking sheet and enjoy!
- Butter: If you don't have salted butter, use an equal amount of unsalted butter plus an added ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt.
- Light brown sugar: Brown sugar has slightly more depth of flavor compared to granulated sugar. Use light brown sugar to keep the dough pale. If you don't have light brown sugar, substitute more granulated sugar instead.
- Earl grey tea: Use tea leaves that have been ground into a fine powder. Conventional store-bought tea bags usually already contain dusty/powdery tea, so if using, simply cut open the tea bags and measure directly. (Typically, you'll need 2 to 3 tea bags). If using loose leaf tea, you'll need to first grind it into a fine powder using a small spice grinder. Measure the tea after it's been ground.
- Technique tip: If you want more pronounced marks/holes in the tops of the cookies after sprinkling with sugar, just use the same fork to re-indent the markings made before baking.
- Optional icing: If you have a sweet tooth, this Orange Icing is delicious drizzled over the cooled cookies.
- Storage tips: Once fully cooled, the cookies can be transferred to an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. If the shortbread is decorated with icing, they're best enjoyed within 1 week.
- Freezing instructions: To freeze the cookies, follow all the steps up until baking the cookies. Freeze the cut, unbaked cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet until firm to the touch, then transfer to a freezer bag or airtight container (this prevents them from sticking together). Bake from frozen (the cookies may take 1-2 minutes extra in the oven, but watch closely).
- Measuring by weight: For the most reliable results, we recommend measuring by weight when baking. Ingredient weights are provided in metric. If you must go by volume (measuring cups), make sure to fluff, spoon, and level the flour to avoid adding too much.
Donna L says
Second time making these, I'm obsessed! Thank you for this great recipe!
Hi Donna - Yay, glad to hear you're enjoying these Earl Grey cookies! Hope you have a great holiday season ahead!
Really yummy! Super easy recipe too. Going to make more for the holidays!
Glad you enjoyed this recipe Tessa! We'll be making more of these cookies too for the holidays:) Hope you have a great holiday season.
Kelly Y says
These are delicious!!!! I shared these with my book club ladies and everyone was fawning over them. Thank you!
Yay, we're thrilled this was a hit at book club! Thanks for making one of recipes to share there — such an honour! Have a great rest of your day Kelly:)
Yum! These are delish. I put a piece of parchment over the dough to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin. Not sure if it's necessary, but that's what I usually do so it's a habit
Hi Pam! We're so glad you enjoyed these cookies! Good call with the parchment paper, it can definitely help if the dough is sticking. I do that myself too sometimes:) We'll look to add that note to the tips. Thank you!
Saw these on Instagram and had to make them this weekend. They did not disappoint! Already planning to make another batch for my mom's birthday <3
That's so lovely to hear Krista! Thanks for taking the time to write in! We hope your mom has a great birthday!
These are SO GOOD! I swapped vanilla bean paste instead of extract. I used Tetley tea bags. I think basic tea bags are definitely the way to go instead of loose leaf tea. Grinding such a small amount of loose leaf tea seems like it would be annoying!
Hi Sara! So glad you enjoyed these and that the vanilla bean paste worked out. Yes, we agree: you don't need a ton of tea for the cookies, so tea bags are definitely easier if you have them! Thanks for sharing:)