Melt in your mouth vanilla shortbread cookies that are flaky and tender, topped with turbinado sugar and flaky sea salt. This easy shortbread recipe does not use butter (you won’t miss it one bit!)
Truly, there is nothing traditional about this shortbread recipe but I can’t say I’m sorry for it. These are totally delicious for what they are: buttery without the butter, crumbly and crunchy in the all the right ways, there’s a little crisp from the turbinado sugar which also lends a slightly caramel-like taste, and a well balanced salt ratio ad some flaky sea salt on top gives these so much flavor. Sweet & salty lovers, you’ll like these!
P.S. Did I time this so that we’d be able to make it in time for season 3 of Ted Lasso? I sure did!
P.P.S. there’s a chocolate version coming soon!
It doesn’t use butter: By wonderful happenstance, this shortbread recipe is vegan and dairy free. Instead of butter we’re using avocado oil, which has that buttery taste quality to it giving it excellent flavor, but also coats the flour more evenly than butter. It’s wonderfully flaky, without butter!
It has a mix of sugars: Powdered sugar and the starch in it, give it this melt in your mouth texture, turbinado sugar adds a bit of caramel taste and gives it some crispyness.
It takes almost no effort: The most you’ll sweat over is sifting in the flour to make the batter. Everything is mixed in one bowl then pressed into a pan.
Tender and crumbly texture: These are messy, in the very best way. Think of the way a good croissant shatters when you cut into it, it’s the same with these shortbread!
All purpose *but* I’ll implore you to use a low protein all purpose like White Lily which is very finely sifted, has a 9% protein content (close to cake flour!) and therefore allows for much less gluten to form.
Can’t find a low protein all purpose? If you’re using KAB, you can do a mix of cake and all purpose: 1 1/2 cup cake flour, 1 ½ cups all purpose. This will get you close.
No cake flour? Go all in with the all purpose. It won’t be as ‘flaky’ but it’ll still be great. For a gluten-free bake, use a 1 to 1 gf flour swap like King Arthur’s or Bob’s.
Powdered sugar: preferably organic made with tapioca (not cornstarch). Adds to the crumbly texture and the melt on the tongue quality of the shortbread.
Turbinado sugar: Raw sugar that hasn’t undergone extensive processing and refining. The big crystals don’t really melt so they add a lovely crunch in the shortbread. And since they’re less refined they have more of that natural molasses taste. I love it here. No subs!
Fine sea salt & flaky sea salt: The former for adding to the dough the latter to sprinkle on top. Skip the flaky if you don’t like that punch of flavor.
Vanilla: You want to use quite a bit and a good quality for this recipe. I like a pure vanilla extract and/or vanilla bean paste.
Avocado oil: To me, this is the magic ingredient. Avocado oil gives us all those qualities that we talked about (coats the flour to prohibit gluten from forming, keeps them from being overly dry) but has the added bonus of having a buttery taste.
Use another flavorless oil if you don’t want/can’t use avocado, grapeseed would be good here.
With a cursory look at the instructions, you’ll see I’ll ask you to bake the shortbread first in a square pan then to slice it and bake it again on a sheet pan. This isn’t how shortbread is usually made and is more often done to biscotti (which literally means twice baked). But I digress!
I do a twice-bake so that we can get golden edges all around each and every shortbread. They only need another ten minutes in the oven after the first bake so it won’t be long but does something magical, adding to those caramel-like notes that the turbinado sugar does here.
Citrus: Use any citrus zest and add it to the dough: lemon, lime, orange, etc. For an added boost of flavor you can add an extract like lemon extract.
Chocolate: Add ½ cup mini chocolate chips or skip the turbinado/sea salt topping and after baking, dip the shortbread fingers into melted chocolate to coat and then add some flaky sea salt!
Mint: I had an earlier version where I added both mint and lemon zest; I did it by grinding up the mint with the turbinado sugar and adding it straight to the dough. Warming: the shortbread will be greenish!
I had a reader (hi Elin!!!) swap the avocado oil in the recipe for browned butter and while I tried it in my chocolate shortbread, and didn’t taste the bb enough for it to be worthy, I thought there was a very good chance it would do wonders here. I tried it with the vanilla bean in the butter as it browns method I use in this cake and holy hell, it was amazing. Here’s how to do it:
Set 230g butter (I like using salted European butter here and reducing the salt in the recipe to 1/4 tsp) in a saucepan and begin melting. Once it’s mostly melted, add a scraped vanilla bean (the scrapings too) and continue cooking as it browns. You’ll see tiny specks of vanilla all over, don’t confuse them with the slightly larger milk solids you’ll see separating from the liquid and turning brown. Once browned, transfer to a heatproof bowl add a teaspoon of vanilla extract (skip the tablespoon of paste), stir and let cool slightly.
Remove the vanilla bean and discard. You can now add the brown butter to the recipe in place of the oil. Be sure to scrape up all the black (vanilla) and brown (milk solids) bits into the dough.
Adding the freshly scraped bean to the dough does WONDERS. You’ll taste the vanilla like never before with the notes of brown butter.
P.S. If you still want this to be dairy free, you can brown vegan butter too!
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