Lemon Shortbread Valentine's Day Cookies



Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies


After my fairly successful first attempt at decorating Christmas cookies with royal icing, I was itching to try again.  Valentine’s Day presents the perfect opportunity for this sort of experiment, since a pallet of red, pink and white can be combined in limitless combinations of hearts, swirls, stripes, polka dots and all around cutesiness that may make many of you gag, but which I find adorable.

These cookies will be just the first of several Valentine’s treats I have planned for this week, although I may not be able to get them all posted by Thursday.  Coming up will be a batch of Cream-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes, covered in Ganache, and decorated with white piping (for my coworkers next week), Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes (a small order for a coworker’s sweetie pie), and Cherry Heart-Shaped Muffins for breakfast for the upcoming snowy weekend we’re expecting. 

And on the 14th for MY VALENTINE, a triple layer chocolate cream pie, with dark chocolate ganache on the bottom, creamy chocolate custard in the middle, and fluffy chocolate whipped cream on top…  He’s going to be very happy.


Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies
Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies
Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies


But for today, let’s talk about these cookies.  A bowl of beautiful lemons on the counter inspired me to start by making lemon shortbread dough.  I love how versatile my shortbread cookie recipe is, and I’ve made this recipe dozens of times in variations of vanilla bean, salted pecan, chocolate chip and almond.  For this lemon variation, lots of fresh lemon zest and cold lemon juice (instead of ice water) adds wonderful tartness to balance the sweet icing.

Once the cookie dough was mixed, rolled, cut, chilled and baked, the decorating fun began.  I just cut these out using a few small and medium heart-shaped and round cookie cutters, as well as a couple rectangular ones that I just cut with a rolling pastry cutter, and then used a small spoon to cut away the scalloped edges for the “love letter” cookies.  Williams Sonoma sells a love letter cookie cutter that will do all this for you, but they were sold out at our store when I checked a few days ago, so I had to make do without.


Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies
Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies
Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies


Although I would love to be able to offer a tutorial on using royal icing, I still don’t feel confident enough in my technique to instruct anyone else.  My biggest struggle is with the consistency of the icing – I tend to keep it on the dry side, because I’m afraid of it being too runny, spilling over the edges of the cookies, and then not setting up.  But my hesitation at thinning it out with more water meant that after I squeezed it onto the cookies it set almost instantly with barely enough time for me to spread it around, which not only makes it dry with a slightly dull finish instead of a glossy sheen, but limits certain techniques I wanted to try, such as blending other colors into the base color, rather than just piping designs on top of the base.

And yet, now that I've raised the bar on myself, I can't go back to messily swiping thick frosting onto cookies with a knife and tossing a few sprinkles on for decoration, so I feel obligated to continue trying to improve my technique.

After I finished decorating all the cookies, I thought I would pipe some small royal icing roses with the leftover icing, to let dry and use on future projects, but I found that while the consistency of my icing was almost too dry for the cookies, it was actually too soft to hold its shape for piping roses.  Strange indeed.  I’m learning that royal icing is an art form that takes a lot of patience and practice.


Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies
Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies
Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies


But in spite of this, I think they turned out pretty cute, and I’m sure no one is as critical of the result as I am, so I will just keep on practicing and accept that most people only care about how they taste, and no one expects them to look as perfect as I think they should.  I took these to a Super Bowl party on Sunday, where they were quickly finished off with hardly a crumb left in the container.  One friend said that he loves when something simple, like lemon shortbread, is done really well.  And I love compliments like that!



Lemon Shortbread Valentines Cookies





Lemon Shortbread Valentine's Day Cookies
printable recipe

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 sticks, plus 2 tablespoons (18 tablespoons total) very cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 2-4 tablespoons cold lemon juice, freshly squeezed


In a bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar, lemon zest and salt.  Scatter the cold butter pieces over the flour, and using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until you have coarse crumbs with visible pea-sized chunks of butter throughout.  Add the egg yolks to the flour mixture and work the dough with your fingers to incorporate the moisture into the flour.  (The dough will appear very dry, and you might think it doesn't have enough liquid, but don't worry, it will come together.)  After 2-3 minutes of working the dough, it should start to hold together enough so that you can gather it into a loose ball. Add the cold lemon juice, a little at a time, just to finish bringing the dough together so that you can roll it out; only use as much juice as you need. 

Shape the dough into a disk and set on a piece of parchment paper, lightly floured.  Place another piece of parchment paper on top of the dough.  Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick.  Use cookie cutters to cut as many cookies as you can; transfer the cookies to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat, placing the cookies 1 inch apart.  Gather up the dough scraps, roll them out again, and cut more cookies, continue rolling and cutting until you've used up all the dough.  You should be able to cut about 3 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutter/s.

Freeze the cookies on the baking sheets for 45 minutes to an hour.  This will help ensure that they hold their shape and do not spread out during baking. (When it's cold out, I just lay a clean kitchen towel over my cookie sheets and set them outside on our balcony to chill, instead of trying to make room for the cookie sheets in the freezer.) 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake the cookies (straight from the freezer) for 8-12 minutes, depending on how big you cut them, just until a very pale golden (the cookies do not rise or spread).  Cool completely on a wire rack before icing and decorating. 

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

For the Royal Icing, I've been playing around with some different recipes, but haven't yet settled on one that's exactly right for me, or with a perfect consistency for flooding and piping.  Eventually, I hope to formulate my own perfect recipe and tips as I practice more with decorating cookies.