Four-Ingredient Shortbread Cookies

by Koko on March 5, 2012 · 53 comments

in Baking, Cookies

These cookies are a legend in my mom’s side of the family. My mom is one of 5 children. She grew up in Hawaii and her and her two sisters went to public school there.  Every Friday, the three of them would buy a shortbread cookie for a nickel and wrap the buttery cookie in wax paper to bring home to eat. For over 30 years, the three of them (who are all great chefs and bakers) have tried to recreate the magical recipe. And this past weekend, the recipe was published by a former Hawaiian public school cafeteria worker who said these cookies were baked nearly every day and kept in 5-gallon tins.

My mom and my two Aunts all experimented with the recipe to make sure they taste exactly how they remembered. And this recipe gets it just right. The hint to these cookies is the salted butter. Don’t use unsalted and don’t use fancy Irish butter, just regular salted butter from the grocery store. And the longer they sit after baking, the better they taste since the flavors have time to meld together. The cookies are rich, so we cut them small to get 2 dozen, but the size is totally up to you. The key to storing these pups is to always keep them in a tin with some parchment paper (it keeps them crispy as well as moist).

The cookies are buttery, just the perfect amount of sweet and highly addictive. We’ve had three different batches in our house this past week for tasting purposes and none of us can stop eating them. They taste delicious with a cup of tea or coffee. This is one of those recipes that I want to pass on to my children and them to theirs. Enjoy!


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dinah December 13, 2016 at 8:20 pm

Hey Koko I want to THANK YOU for this recipe I’ve been searching for years. You are an ANGEL. Many Mahalos ,

God Bless,

Bebe October 26, 2016 at 11:26 am

I wonder if it can be doubled, or make it in a larger pan?

Joanne May 20, 2016 at 12:22 am

Thank you for sharing this recipe. These are by far the best short bread cookies I have ever made. Friends and family always enjoy these cookies when I make them.

shianne January 4, 2016 at 2:45 pm

can you add macadamia nuts to it

Koko January 4, 2016 at 2:50 pm

I don’t see why not!

Sharon December 21, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Powdered sugar or granulated sugar?

Koko January 4, 2016 at 2:50 pm


Sharon December 21, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Most recipes I’ve read for shortbread cookies call for icing sugar also known as powdered sugar. Your recipe simply states sugar. Which to me means to use granulated table suger. Right?

Koko January 4, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Correct, granulated

Mila December 20, 2015 at 10:56 am

Reading all the comments and reminiscing back at school days and often bragging how awesome lunches were back then and only 25 cent! Those ladies could cook! I was so happy when I was assign for cafeteria duty knowing the menu included shortbread cookie. I can’t wait to try your recipe, sounds like the recipe I’ve been looking for. Can you double the recipe and get the same results using a 9×13 pan? Can you use pyrex glass cooking pan? And when you say prick the top, how much pricking do you do, few hole or like pricking a pie crust? Lastly, what like of flour do you use, self rising or all purpose? Thanks so much for your time answering my comments.

Koko January 4, 2016 at 2:52 pm

I have not tried doubling it, but imagine it will be the same with adjustments to the cook time! Glass should be totally fine. Prick a few spots so when you cut each piece will have the pricks. All purpose flour!

Colleen Lester November 5, 2015 at 10:56 am

Can’t wait to try these. I grew in Honolulu and remember the shortbread cookies at school. I think we got them on Fridays. So delicious.

Jill Nalani Miller October 4, 2015 at 8:55 pm

I’ve waited decades for this recipe. I got it today on a new site I joined on FB. It took me back to the late 50’s. Mahalo ladies…. <3

Candy April 20, 2015 at 1:42 am

Aloha KOKO, ur recipe is amazing!!!, I just made it this afternoon and it is delicious, just like the ones that I grew up eating in grade school being born and raised in Honolulu. I can’t wait to share them with my co-workers tomorrow. thanks for sharing this recipe. p.s., it was easy to make and i creamed the butter and sugar by hand due to not owning a stand mixer and it still came out amazing!!!

Koko April 28, 2015 at 7:25 pm

SO glad you liked it Candy! xoxox

Bryant Bradley August 11, 2014 at 4:40 pm

As an “army brat” I was fortunate to attend school in Kailua during the early 1960’s and had to periodically work in the cafeteria. I prayed the ladies would make the shortbread cookies the day I worked. I have searched high and low for the perfect recipe for these shortbread cookies. Whenever I return to the islands I hit Long’s Drugstore for Donna’s Shortbread Cookies and I have even visited her tiny store on the Big Island. Your recipe is the closest to the taste and texture I remember from my school days. Thank you for sharing.

Koko August 11, 2014 at 9:30 pm


I am so thrilled the recipe reminded you of your school days in Hawaii! Thanks for sharing this personal story with me, it made my day! -K

Alicia Jankowski June 29, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Just made these for a coworker’s birthday. They are delicious and so easy.

paulette April 25, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Miss Koko mahalo for posting this recipe. Being from Honolulu, this shortbread cookie was n is still the BEST!! ever. I am not a baker, but with just four ingredients n taking my time what could go wrong. It brought back so much memories, this cookie goes way back. The cookies were put in wax paper baggy n at lunch we would buy two, safe one for after school, while we hung out at the basketball count, and if you had to do cafeteria work during school, when it was over you get a bag of cookies. Wow! great memories. I’m glad I try it n they came out wonderful. Again mahalo nui. Aloha….

Susan R. March 16, 2014 at 1:02 pm

I don’t know what made me think of this this morning, but I was remembering the good times I had at Kealakehe School in Kona and especially remembering those awesome cookies that we would get from the cafeteria. This has brought back some great memories. We used to trade all kinds of stuff for those cookies. Good times 🙂 I will make the cookies right now. Mahalo Nui for sharing this recipe.

regan nelson December 30, 2013 at 10:37 pm

have you ever tried adding chocolate chips?

Dee December 6, 2013 at 12:47 am

Made these cookies today to share with my little grandson who is allergic to milk and eggs. Most cookie recipes have those ingredients. He also doesn’t like Chocolate, so these cookies were perfect for him. He loved them along with the rest of us loving them too. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

Koko December 8, 2013 at 8:46 pm

YAY! SO happy they turned out great for you!

KC December 4, 2013 at 8:21 am

Thanks for writing this! I was in public school in the 60’s too when lunch was .25! I usually have to buy Walkers Shortbread but now I can make my own!
And the Dream cake was my favorite! I always asked for that on my birthday.

Koko December 8, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Let me know how they turn out!

Shortbreadguy August 11, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I remember the Hawaiian shortbread cookie in the 60’s. I remember when us kids had to work in the cafeteria, and the ladies that ran the joint, who spoke very thick pidgin english, would reach into the 5 gallon bucket and dole out the cookies. How I wished I could take that 5 gallon bucket home. Whenever I went back to Hawaii I’d be on the search for those cookies. Occasionally I would find a bakery that made similar cookies, then they’d stop making them, or the bakery closed down, and many times the cookies were a poor imitation. Recently in 2013 I found some at Longs drugs that are made by “Donnas Cookies”. We bought 3 jars, they’re quite good. Unfortunately Donna’s has no mail order. I can’t can’t wait to make these cookies with my kids. I hope this recipe solves the lifelong quest and mystery. Thank you for posting this long held secret recipe…. P.S. Also, equally as sought after, is the Hawaiian Dream Cake. In the 60’s, mom would bring one home from Jean’s Bakery in Kailua, It’s still available at some bakery’s, but the recipe is secret. Chocolate cake, fluffy white frosting(of some kind), and chocolate shreds on top. Dreams guaranteed.

Koko August 11, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I LOVE your memories, I’ll have to look for that Hawaiian Dream Cake recipe and try it out!

Ron April 30, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Donna’s will mail order cookies. See their Facebook page. I had some shipped to me in California and some to my sister and her son and daughter-in-law in Seattle. Shipping is not cheap, but as you probably know, they are worth it.

Joan Shropshire July 10, 2013 at 2:58 am

Thank you so much for this post. I was one of the lucky students that enjoyed the shortbread cookie that was served with lunch and brought back so much memories from my elementary days. I can’t wait to try this with my kids!

Faith December 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

I too am from Hawaii and I remember racing to the cafeteria after school to buy these cookies. Usually there were only a few available, so if you were lucky you got at least one. I can’t wait to try this.

Nene December 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm

I love this! I will be making these for classmates. I was wondering if the batter is roll-able (into cookie shapes) because I want to dunk the bottoms of half into dark chocolate and make the rest strawberry shortbread.

Koko December 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I think you could definitely give it a try! I made mine in a pan so they came out as squares. So another option would be to make them in the pan and then dunk them afterwards? Let me know how it goes!!!

Sue November 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Help! Sticks of butter now come in 1/4 cup size and 1/2 cup size. If I use two sticks, which size should I be using?

Koko November 25, 2012 at 3:51 pm

1/2 cup size! xoox

Pliesl November 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Thank you so much for the recipe! My brother and I love Hawaiian shortbread, whether from Honolulu Cookie Co to various brands found in Hawaiian groceries. I made this recipe for myself and it’s delicious! My brother is also away in the Army for the holidays so I shared my batch with him and followed your tips on storage and mailed the tin today. Thank you for allowing my brother to have a wonderful homemade, sentimental gift for Thanksgiving! Cheers!

Koko November 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm

So happy you tried them and sent them off for the holidays. This story melts my heart! Happy holidays!

Steffi November 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Just made these… super simple and so tasty! I omitted the extra salt, and used a larger pan for thinner cookies.

These don’t taste like my prairie Canadian shortbread roots, but wonderful nonetheless.

Thank you, thank you!

Koko November 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm


SO happy you tried them!!!


Liz August 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm

I’m also from Hawai’i and remember those shortbread cookies! We always had the best lunches, when I was in school lunch cost 25 cents, and that was full price. I am anxious to make these, hope I don’t eat them all myself. I will get some Passion-Orange juice and really relive old times. 😉

Koko August 27, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Liz that sounds like a perfect snack: some shortbread and Passion-Orange juice!! I hope you try the recipe, SO simple and are almost identical to the ones growing up.

Lani July 9, 2013 at 3:06 am

Sounds delish! I want to make this! What size pan? 9x?

Koko July 9, 2013 at 7:23 am

9×9 square pan! If you don’t have that you can use an 8×8, but alter your baking time!

Lani July 10, 2013 at 1:45 am

Thanks for the reply! If I double the recipe, can I use 9×13?

Gleeful March 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Okay, you just posted a recipe for shortbread cookies that I can make with only four ingredients? You may have just changed my life. I can’t wait to try these (and then will probably never stop eating them after I do)!

Koko March 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Seriously they are SO addictive!!! Be careful! Freeze them or give them out immediately!

Nicole@HeatOvenTo350 March 6, 2012 at 8:52 am

That’s so wonderful that your family finally has this recipe after so many years! It looks delicious. Thank you for sharing it.

Geneva March 6, 2012 at 8:20 am

I love having shortbread and tea for a little afternoon snack- I used to do digestives and tea when we were in London. Can’t wait to try these out!

Koko March 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm

I miss digestives!!! They sell them at World Market btw, but I try not to remember that or else I will get myself into trouble… Miss you!

Geneva March 26, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Omg I finally made these and I can’t control myself! They are so good!!

Koko March 26, 2013 at 8:23 pm

YAYA!!!!! So happy you tried them! Miss ya girl!

Koko July 10, 2013 at 1:48 am

The cookies may be a little thicker if you do that, just adjust your baking time. And let me know how it goes!

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