Brown butter shortbread cookies take the best parts of a delicate shortbread and mix it up with the nutty ambrosia of browned butter.
The cookies are buttery, crumbly, and thick, with flecks of vanilla bean seeds and toasty milk solids.
Let these shortbread cookies shine in their simplicity, or spruce them up with finely chopped chocolate or a dip in shimmery sanding sugar.
Keep reading for more ideas on how to make these cookies your own!
what makes these brown butter shortbread cookies so good?
This recipe went through a lot of trials before I landed on a perfect shortbread cookie. The issue was mostly caused by the browned butter! In order for the milk proteins to get hot enough to brown, the water in the butter evaporates. The key, then, is to add back the water that’s lost to make a cookie dough with rich browned butter flavor and delicate, thick shortbread consistency. That, plus a few important tweaks (below), will give you the BEST brown sugar shortbread cookies, ever.
Powdered sugar: Using 100% powdered sugar in this recipe gives cookies with an extra-tender, melt in your mouth texture.
Water back: This is crucial to producing a workable dough! The small amount of water that’s lost in the browning step can be the key to a dough that is perfectly moist or impossibly dry and crumbly.
Egg yolk: An egg yolk adds a tender texture and rich flavor to the dough, and it helps the cookies hold their shape during baking.
Vanilla bean: Use a whole vanilla bean for the richest, most fragrant cookies. Scrape the seeds out with a paring knife and mix them in with the butter and sugar. You can also use 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste.
Don't overwork it: Mix in the flour until just combined, then stop! Over-mixing will make cookies that are tough and hard rather than delicate, light and tender.
Salt: I love salted butter in shortbread cookies, and I also add a touch of fine salt to the dough. It balances the sweetness: both actual sweetness from the sugar, and perceived sweetness from the vanilla beans and toasty butter flavors. The sweet, salty, nutty, crumbly combination is just so, so delicious.
brown butter shortbread ingredients:
- salted butter
- powdered sugar
- all-purpose flour
- vanilla bean
- fine salt
how to make brown butter shortbread cookies:
- Brown the butter; chill until firm.
- Cream brown butter, sugar, salt and vanilla bean seeds.
- Mix in egg yolks and water.
- Mix in flour.
- Transfer dough to parchment paper, roll out and chill until firm.
- Cut into squares or circles and bake until firm and just golden on the edges, about 22 minutes.
- Cool and enjoy!
The shortbread dough can be frozen for up to 3 months.
I prefer to roll out the dough and freeze the slabs in a resealable plastic bag. You could also roll the dough into a log to freeze, or shape it into 2 disks.
Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before cutting and shaping.
To freeze the shortbread cookies after baking, cool the cookies completely then layer in an airtight container. Separate the layers with parchment paper to prevent them from sticking.
You could also freeze them on a sheet pan overnight, then store them in a resealable plastic bag.
Thaw at room temperature before serving.
tips for browned butter:
- Work at medium-low heat! The hotter the burner, the more the butter will splatter AND the more likely it will burn.
- Once the butter starts to brown, stir it constantly to evenly toast the milk solids and prevent them from burning. This also encourages evaporation and keeps the foam at bay, so you can clearly see the color of the solids.
- When you’ve reached the level of brownness you want (deep enough for toasty flavor, but not burnt) transfer butter to a heatproof bowl to cool. If you leave the browned butter in the pot, it will continue to cook and will probably burn.
make these cookies your own: flavor variations
- Roll into a log for slice and bake (roll log in crushed pretzels or turbinado sugar)
- Mix in ½ cup chopped pecans
- Mix in ½ cup chopped dried cranberries
- Dissolve 1 tsp dried espresso powder in the butter before it cools
- Mix in ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Mix in ⅓ cup finely chopped dark chocolate
- Dip or drizzle with tempered chocolate
try more shortbread cookies here!Print
brown butter shortbread
These brown butter shortbread cookies are buttery, crumbly, and thick-- with flecks of vanilla bean seeds and toasty milk solids. The nutty ambrosia and melt-in-your mouth tenderness take them to the next level!
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 18
- Category: Cookies
- Method: Mixer
- Cuisine: American
- 2 sticks salted butter
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ½ tsp fine salt
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped (can substitute 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste)
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 tbsp water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often, as butter foams and then begins to brown and smell nutty, 5- 10 minutes. When golden brown, scrape into a medium bowl and chill until firm.
- Let brown butter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Place browned butter, sugar, salt and vanilla bean seeds (or paste, if using) in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as needed. Mix in egg yolk and water until combined.
- Add flour and slowly mix until dough just comes together. Don’t over mix.
- Scoop dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Cover with another sheet of parchment and roll out to ⅜-inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until very firm.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325°F.
- Use a 2-inch square cookie cutter to cut out cookies, re-rolling scraps as needed. Arrange cookies ½-inch apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, storing any unbaked cookies in the refrigerator until needed.
- Bake for 22- 24 minutes, or until cookies are just firm to the touch and the edges are a light golden brown.
- Let cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a rack to cool completely. Repeat baking the remaining cookies.
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.
- Serving Size: 1
- Calories: 171
- Sugar: 6g
- Sodium: 150mg
- Fat: 11g
- Saturated Fat: 6.6g
- Unsaturated Fat: 3.4g
- Trans Fat: 0.4g
- Carbohydrates: 17g
- Fiber: 0.4g
- Protein: 2g
- Cholesterol: 48mg
Keywords: brown butter shortbread