All about the sand dough

Author: Irina Zyryanova, sales support technologist in the confectionery industry.


The flour confectionery market is a growing and promising market for Russian manufacturers. Few people can resist a delicious cookie and coffee in the office with colleagues, or a slice of cake as a guest over tea, or an original cake in a restaurant after a delicious dinner. Undoubtedly, everyone has their favorite dessert, and there are countless confections. Different combinations of semi-finished products and ingredients, flavors and aromas allow technologists to display the most unusual fantasies.

One of the most popular semi-finished products for making confectionery is sand dough. It can be used to make cookies, brownies, pies and cakes. Unsweetened sand dough is often used to make tartlets and open pies (quiche, tarte), which can be filled not only with sweet but also with gourmet (salty) fillings. So what is shortbread dough?

Sand dough is a dough made with flour, butter or margarine and sugar. There are many variations in the preparation of this dough, but the classic recipe is simple: 3:2:1, that is, three parts of flour mixed with two parts of margarine and one part of sugar. Water, eggs or just the yolk, sour cream or cottage cheese, spices and herbs, and more can also be added to the shortbread dough. And in some formulations, there is no sugar. But first things first…

Many of us often don’t even realize that cookies have their own unique history, going back decades or even centuries. But there is still no unambiguous theory of the origin of cookies. According to some scientists, cookies appeared almost simultaneously with the appearance of the first bread, about 10,000 years ago. According to another theory, the history of cookies dates back to the 7th century B.C., when sugar cookies began to be made in Persia. In general, according to chronicles, Persia of those times was famous for its cakes and luxurious taste of cookies, which were made of rice flour. Some historians claim on the contrary, that allegedly flour confectionery began in Europe, and cookies were already prepared from wheat flour. But it’s more likely that cookies came to Europe around the 14th century AD. This is due to the frequent wars with the Ottoman Empire. Later cookies became an indispensable companion of seafarers: they had the property of not getting stale for a long time. Time went on and cookies became tightly integrated into the household.

But the very definition of “sandy” is associated with the fact that a quality product of sand dough is so crumbly that with a little pressure crumbles into small crumbs, so small that more like sand.

There are different classifications of sand dough depending on the fat and sugar content, the technology used, the type of final product and others. Let’s break down the most popular now, based both on the European confectionery school and taking a lot from the Soviet school of confectionery.

The main types of sand dough, differing in composition:

– pate brisee is sugar-free. Used mainly for unsweetened pies and tarts.

– sucree – very sweet and fatty. Very fragile in operation due to the high amount of sugar and fat.

– sable – something in between, the most classic sand dough, best suited to a 3:2:1 ratio.

Types of shortbread dough by the method of mixing ingredients that affect the texture and flavor of the dough:

– whipping method – soft butter or margarine is beaten with sugar, then eggs are added, and finally flour is added. This is how you make dough for both muffins and cookies. This is the most popular and widespread technology among manufacturers, as the dough is very airy and, as a consequence, passes well through different types of dough shaping machines.

– Chopped – cold butter or margarine is chopped together with flour into fine crumbs of various sizes. Suitable for tarts and pies when the filling is baked right along with the dough.

– plain chopped. Rub butter or margarine with flour to fine crumbs. Next, add the rest of the ingredients and knead into a pliable dough.

– puff pastry. With this method of kneading, the butter or margarine pieces should be left larger, like peas. In this case, the dough is layered by alternating formed dough and butter/margarine pieces. When baking, the liquid from the butter/margarine evaporates, forming a flaky layer. This is the kind of dough used to cover the filling when making a closed tart. Such dough rises well, the finished product has an airy loosened structure.

– mashing method – butter and flour are mashed together, resulting in a more delicate texture. Such a dough requires mandatory chilling before baking. Suitable for pies with liquid filling, cheesecakes, when the base is baked separately and then the filling is poured in and baked again.

The basic and main secret of sand dough is the quality raw materials used in its preparation. As we said earlier the main ingredients are only three: flour, butter or margarine, and sugar. The quality of the flour and fat component has a special influence on the quality of sand dough and products made from it.

While there is only one basic recommendation for flour for shortbread dough: choose a flour with a low medium to weak gluten content to avoid the dough tightening as you work, there are many options for fat products:

– butter;

– margarine;

– specialty fat;


Fats and shortenings for sand dough are mainly chosen by industrialized companies, this is due to the individual peculiarities of production and the properties of the final product.

Butter and margarine, however, are most commonly used. And the eternal question: which is better after all. There is no unambiguous answer to this question. If we talk about taste and flavor, many buyers give preference to butter, but technologically the absolute leader is margarine.

Margarine has a high whipping capacity, provides dough plasticity, resistant to delamination in a wide range of operating temperatures, in addition, helps to extend the shelf life of finished products from sand dough.

Rusagro has a variety of fat products for sand dough: for every taste, for every request, for every task. But of course the manufacturers give their preference to the SolPro and Grandpro lines of sand dough margarines. These are specialized products, developed for sand dough and taking into account all technological peculiarities of production. In addition, the Grandpro Tart margarine (part number 338210) has a wonderful butter flavor and aroma. In addition to the much-loved sand dough margarine (article 33820), the SolPro range also includes innovative palm oil-free margarines (article 33826) and food additive-free margarines with E index (33824). And a completely unique product that contains no palm oil or E-additives (item 33827).

So, we’ve broken down the basic ingredients that make up the foundation of shortbread dough. But in practice, a large number of different raw materials are used to expand the range, to give the dough unique technological properties or flavor characteristics. Let’s briefly break down some of them:

– Eggs – give the dough some stiffness, which together with the classic composition of sand dough and soft filling very enriches the dessert. And the dough is easier to roll out.

– Adding acid to the dough (kefir, sour cream, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, lemon juice) gives the dough tenderness and even some layering, it rises more. Especially good sand dough on sour cream.

– Yeast – soft, fluffy dough, a kind of symbiosis between shortbread and yeast pastry.

– Cocoa – gives a chocolate flavor and replaces some of the flour.

– Milk instead of water. Makes the dough more elastic.

– Nut flours are almond or hazelnut flour. In addition to the nutty flavor, they give a special crumbly texture.

– Leavening agent – used to make the product extra airy and crumbly.

– Flavor additives – nuts, raisins, vanilla, citrus zest, cinnamon, coconut. They don’t do anything to the texture of the dough, they just add flavor.

I would like to finish this article with some nuances that you need to pay attention to when preparing sand dough:

1. Stick to the recipe. As you’ve realized, the variations are many. Either trust the authors or always make your favorite recipe.

2. If the recipe calls for room temperature butter or margarine, take the eggs out of the fridge along with the butter/margarine – they should be the same temperature!

3 If the dough needs to be as pliable as possible, e.g. for rolling, after kneading it should be placed in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

4. The sand dough is best rolled out on a silicone mat or baking paper and covered with the same mat or paper. This way the dough won’t stick to the rolling pin, and you’ll avoid excess flour for dusting.

5. “Blind method” of baking – when sand dough is baked with a weight placed on the dough. You can use peas, chickpeas, beans, rice, peanuts or special ceramic balls for baking. This is done to keep the dough from puffing up and staying flat.

6. The optimum temperature of sand dough during operation should be no more than +20℃. If it is significantly lower, the dough is difficult to roll out, and at higher temperatures the fat in the dough will begin to melt.

In this article, we have touched only a small part of the nuances, features, facts about sand dough. Over the years, a huge knowledge base has been accumulated beyond the scope of a simple article. But one thing remains unchanged: sand dough is a very interesting product and you want to immerse yourself in this knowledge, you want to work with it, creating more and more new masterpieces!

Ask the technologist
Анна Ванчикова,
Технолог сопровождения