Make basic shortbread
Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla ext ract. Line one or two baking trays with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar and cream for about 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed until pale and light. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl half way through. Add in the vanilla extract and mix again.
Add in flour beat them together. Sift in the flour and add the salt then mix on low speed until they are combined and the dough starts to come together. The dough will look quite raggedy but you’ll know it’ ready when it starts to clean the sides of the bowl and clumps in the middle.
With your hands, squeeze the shortbread dough together into a mass. Shape it into a rough disc.
Roll out the shortbread dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a ½ cm (¼ inch) thick.
Note: if the dough is too soft at this point then wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes or longer until it firms up slightly and makes it easier to roll out. Keep an eye on it as if the dough is too hard, it will crack when you try to roll it out.
Cut out cookie shapes and chill. Once the dough is rolled out, use a cookie cutter (I used a heart-shaped one) to stamp out the cookies. Lay the cut outs onto the prepared baking tray. Bring together any scraps, re-roll and stamp out more cookies. And then, do it again if needs be. Just be aware that every time you re-form the dough, it will pull in the flour from the benchtop and hence may dry out the dough. Add a couple of drops of water to the dough if this happens. Try not to overwork the dough by kneading it. Just press it gently together each time.
Now refrigerate the stamped cookies for 30 minutes minimum or until the cutouts have hardened. This means the butter has resolidified and will give you the best possible chance of the cookies retaining their shape in the oven.
Bake. Preheat the oven to 170°C (335°F) whilst the cutouts are chilling. Remove the cookies from the fridge, then bake for 10-12 mins or until just golden around the edges. Cool on the tray for ten minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.