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Stress Baking: Button Shortbread

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My first baking experience was making biscuits with my grandmother, standing on a chair all of three years old. Before the home was air-conditioned an oscillating fan constantly hummed, providing a soothing base track that was enhanced with the sizzling sounds of chicken frying, the tinny rattle of steam escaping a pot, or the whirl of an electric mixer beating batter for cake.

There was always cake.

When making those prophetic biscuits, my grandmother would punch out the dough and place the soft rounds on her well-worn baking sheet. We’d roll out the scraps and she’d let me make a handprint. It was my form of modeling clay or Play-Doh. While her biscuits rose and cooked to golden brown, my tiny, thin handprint would cook to a darker shade. I can still conjure the pleasantly nutty and ever-so-lightly bitter taste. Making biscuits with my grandmother comprise some of my absolute favorite childhood memories.

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Easy Bake

I cut my teeth on an Easy-Bake Oven, but quickly wanted more BTUs than the heat of that single lightbulb could provide. My first solo attempts of real baking (with Mama close by in the other room) were the Chocolate Chip Cookies from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls. Soon thereafter, I took Wilson cake decorating classes and started making birthday cakes for the moms and kids in our neighborhood. I cooked with my mother my entire childhood and we still bake together as often as we can.

No, I do not consider myself a  pastry chef, although I did work in a patisserie in a Michelin-starred restaurant. My IG feed is not filled with images of perfectly coiffed cakes,  unimaginably crafted pie crusts, or loaves of artisan bread. I don’t need them to consider myself someone who loves to bake.

Baking from Scratch

I bake because of the full sensory experience; it is a gift for all the senses. The constant hum of the mixer interspersed with the sounds of the beater meeting the mixing bowl. The earthy aroma of warm, grassy butter juxtaposed with the seductive scent of floral vanilla. The cool feel of sugar as it glances my fingertips or the silky-smooth whisp of flour in my palm. The eye appeal of golden brown cookies and even the oily negative imprint of cookies past on parchment paper or the nonstick baking sheet. Ending with the delicate snap of a cookie that quickly with melts on the tongue. Each enticing moment gives me tangible pleasure.

Stress Baking

I already had these on my editorial calendar docket to post, then life changed with the Coronavirus. We all went into social isolation and watched the horrific news from overseas. Then, overseas became here, at home. Instagram and Facebook feeds quickly became filled with images of cookies, cakes, pies, bread, muffins, and more. People across the world are stress baking. (Stress Baking is completely different from Rage Baking, but is very similar in wanting to do something while feeling powerless.)

When you feel out of control and powerless, it helps to have a manageable project, something achievable. Furthermore, it feels good to make something to feed people to show them love.

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Cooking with Boys and Girls

Baking and cooking in general is a wonderful activity to keep kids of all ages busy. These times in the kitchen can be math exercises, science lessons, and explorations in history. Right now, the children are scared and afraid just like we are and they are less capable of understanding. Their worlds are turned upside down, too. Making cookies together just might be what everyone needs.

I know those memories I have of my grandmother and I in the kitchen fill my heart and soul to this day. If you and your family make these cookies, please snap a photo and tag me! It would give me immeasurable happiness and joy! (I’m @virginiawillis on Instagram and Chef Virginia Willis on Facebook.)

I hope you enjoy these simple Button Shortbread. They are exquisite alone – the most simple combination of butter, flour, and sugar. I had intended to feature them in their original form. However, am a chocolate person. If I can add chocolate, I will — especially when stress eating the results of my stress baking.

Y’all stay safe. Stay at home. Take care of your self, your family, and your community.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Virginia Willis

PS need more stress baking ideas? Check out my Chocolate Chess Pie on Martha Stewart or Mama’s Pound Cake

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Button Shortbread 

These are delicious and incredible. The recipe basically contains just enough flour to hold the butter together. You can also make these cookies "slice and bake" by dividing the dough in half and rolling the halves into logs. Chill until firm, then slice and bake. Either way, these cookies are perfect along with ice cream or a cup of tea. And, since they are so very indulgent, it’s good to know they freeze exceptionally well in an airtight container.
To sandwich some of them with chocolate, melt a handful of chocolate chips in the microwave. Using an offset spatula, spread some of the melted chocolate on one shortbread cookie. Press a second one on top. Eat immediately. Well, they will last, but you will want to eat it immediately.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time15 mins
chilling30 mins
Course: cookies, Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cookie, shortbread
Servings: 3 dozen
Author: Virginia Willis


  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, more for flattening the cookies
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  • Heat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick silicone baking sheets. Set aside. Sift together the flour and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and vanilla; beat until just combined.
  • Using a small ice cream scoop, portion the cookies about 2-inches apart on the prepared sheet pans. Dip a smooth glass in confectioners’ sugar. Press to flatten to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a wooden skewer, make 4 holes in the center of a cookie so that it resembles a button.
  • Transfer the cookie sheets to the refrigerator and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Bake until the cookies are pale golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cookies cool slightly on the cookie sheet then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 7 days.

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Please note that this post may contain affiliate links.

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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