In praise of the scoop, and vanilla shortbread

If I had to eat just one cookie for the rest of my life (tragic thought, isn’t it?), I’d easily choose shortbread.  Tender and melting, shortbread’s browned-butter delicacy makes tollhouse, oatmeal, and sugar cookies seem coarse.  The elegance of shortbread is appealing:  butter, sugar, flour, maybe a bit of cornstarch, and a few simple flavorings.  Nothing so baroque as chips or candies to distract from the flavor of best-quality butter.

My latest favorite shortbread recipe is the vanilla shortbread dome from Nancy Bagett’s The All American Cookie Book,  a treasure trove of historic & modern U.S. cookie recipes.  She was inspired by a cookie at The City Bakery in NYC.  The recipe is incredibly easy–all ingredients go into the food processor, which is pulsed until a dough forms.

At this point in a typical shortbread recipe, the next steps would involve chilling for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, then shaping and baking.  Here’s where the vanilla shortbread domes shake off tradition:  the dough is scooped directly from the food processor onto ungreased sheet pans and into the oven, making this the easiest shortbread ever.  That’s right:  no chilling, resting, rolling, no greasing pans.  A spring-loaded tablespoon scoop (sometimes called a cookie scoop, possibly the best $18 cookie-baking tool around) makes every scoop the same size, lending the cookies an appealing uniformity.

I made a few tiny changes to the recipe–I used salted butter and omitted the salt added to the dough, and I used high-quality vanilla extract rather than scraping a vanilla bean into the dough.  The resulting cookie was tender, with a crispy, nutty brown edge.  I sifted a bit of powdered sugar over the tops while the cookies were still warm; it melts a bit, making a thin layer of buttery sugar.

Nancy Bagett’s Vanilla Shortbread Domes

  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 T powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold salted butter, cut into 16 pieces (cut each stick into 1-T slices, then cut lengthwise)
  • 2 tsp best-quality vanilla extract
  • 1-2 T powdered sugar, for sprinkling atop the cookies once baked

(As noted above, original recipe calls for unsalted butter and 1/4 tsp salt.)

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Place flour, sugar, and cornstarch in a food processor fitted with a chopping blade.  Pulse five or six times to blend.  Remove the lid, evenly distribute the butter chunks over the flour mixture and pour in vanilla extract.  Replace the lid.  Begin pulsing again, scraping the sides as needed.  Process in pulses until the mixture holds together and a dough forms.  Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, space scoops of dough at least 2 inches apart on ungreased sheet pans.  Bake 11 minutes, then switch the position of the pans inside the oven and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes until browned on the edges and just lightly colored on top.  Once baked, remove cookies from pans immediately and cool slightly on a wire rack.  Sift remaining powdered sugar over warm cookies.

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2 thoughts on “In praise of the scoop, and vanilla shortbread

  1. I’ve noticed that powdered sugar appears two times in your ingredient list. Is the “powdered” next to the sugar the first time it appears an error (e.g. should it be granulated sugar for the dough)? Or do you mean put 1/2 cup plus a tablespoon in the mix, then you have an extra 1-2 powdered sugar later for sprinkling on top, and that’s why it is listed twice? Thanks.

  2. Funny–I just made a batch of these last wee, No, the recipe does not require granulated sugar. Using powdered sugar in shortbread-style cookie gives a more delicate texture (the cornstarch also affects texture). The resulting cookies have a melting, shattering, crumbling-tender texture….not sturdy or robust like some shortbreads.

    The two amounts of powdered sugar are needed and used at separate times. The first amount listed, 1/2 cup plus 1 T, is used in the cookie dough. The second amount, 1 or 2 T, is used atop the cookies after baking.

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