Filed under: Cookies / Sugar Cookies / Winter
March 10, 2023

Salted Vanilla Shortbread

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!)

5 from 9 votes
Yield: 24 'cookies'
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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! 

This recipe has some origins in the shortbread layer of these shortbread brownies, and takes some inspiration from Deb’s Olive Oil Shortbread

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! 

 

 

Why this vanilla shortbread recipe is deliciously unique

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! 

 

 

Ingredient Info

Flour

 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. 

 

 

Why is this salted shortbread baked twice? 

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. 

 

Flavoring the vanilla shortbread

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! 

 

Vanilla Brown Butter Shortbread

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! 

 



Salted Vanilla Shortbread

Melt in your mouth shortbread cookies that are flaky and tender.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yields: 24 'cookies'
5 from 9 votes

Ingredients

  • 410g or 3 cups all purpose flour preferably a low protein AP, like White Lily
  • 80g or ⅔ cups powdered sugar preferably organic, made with tapioca starch
  • 70g or ⅓ cup turbinado sugar plus more
  • 1 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla paste or extract
  • 200g or scant 1 cup avocado oil OR browned butter for the brown butter, measure after browning (see notes above)
  • Flaky sea salt

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper.
  • Into a large bowl, sift the flour and the powdered sugar. Add the salt and whisk.
  • Add the turbinado sugar, the vanilla and the avocado oil and stir with a rubber spatula until the dough is well combined.
  • Press the dough into an even layer into the pan. Take care pressing it down, either with the back of a spatula, your hands or the bottom of a measuring cup so it’s smooth on top.
  • Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of turbinado sugar on top, then a light sprinkle of flaky sea salt.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until it’s beginning to turn golden.
  • Take it out of the oven and use the parchment sling to remove the shortbread. It’s ok if it cracks a bit, nudge it back into place with the side of a knife.
  • Line a greased cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Slice the shortbread into half, then quarter then slice each quarter into half so you have 8 columns. Now slice from the other side into thirds.
  • Use a fish spatula to gently lift each cookie and place it on the prepared cookie sheet. Ensure there’s at least a half inch space between each cookie (they won't spread but we want them to cook on the edges).
  • Once all the cookies are on the pan, set it back in the oven (still at 350 F) for another 10 minutes.
  • Store in an airtight container, it’ll keep for a week.

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Recipe Reviews




  1. Man, these are good! I don’t usually keep avocado oil on hand, and I love the taste of brown butter, so I went with that option and absolutely ADORED it! I ended up with a little less than 200 grams after browning, but they still turned out just fine. They came together so quickly and tasted wonderful- that crunch from the turbinado sugar was just delicious. I did have a little bit of trouble with cutting them, as I got a bit confused with the last part “slice from the other side into thirds.” I just decided to stay simple and cut them into 16 squares just as I would for brownies or other bars. They are so rich, though, so in the future I might cut them even smaller, or even use little cookie cutters after the first baking. I also can really see how adding a glaze or something could also be really tasty- the options are endless!

  2. Man, these are good! I don’t usually keep avocado oil on hand, and I love the taste of brown butter, so I went with that option and absolutely ADORED it! They came together so quickly and tasted wonderful- that crunch from the turbinado sugar was just delicious.

  3. 5 stars
    Every recipe I’ve made from this site has been incredible, and this recipe is no exception. I also opted for the browned butter option outlined in the text before the recipe, and it was definitely the move. These came out incredible and everyone at the potluck was asking for the recipe!

  4. 5 stars
    My first time making shortbread and my husband was so surprised. These are easy and delicious. I already jarred my flour and powdered sugar so I couldn’t check for protein or if sugar was with cornstarch or tapioca and they still turned out magnificent. Highly recommend.

    • nope, it’ll dry out. It’s not the kind of dough you need to make ahead of time to freeze tbh, it doesn’t require a rest or a chill and doesn’t take long to mix. plus the shortbread last a week after baking so its fine to make fully ahead of time.

  5. 5 stars
    I used 200 grams of brown butter instead of avocado oil and they turned out absolutely divine (as per usual when I follow a recipe of yours:))!

  6. Hi Sam ~ A question for you:

    For the second bake, is it truly necessary to grease the cookie sheet if it’s going to be lined with parchment?

    Getting ready to make these for guests, and will be sure to review them here when they’re done.

    • Hi Sarah! So I grease it to hold the parchment paper in place, you don’t need much, it’s to avoid having the paper sliding around when you are trying to place the cookies on it

  7. 5 stars
    And might I add, that I have made it too! Like Barbara I cut the recipe exactly in half, using an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan. This is slated for our dessert tonight, but bad boy “me” already ate one of the 12 fingers….OMG! Fantabulous sophisticated shortbread, and I am forever hooked. I actually had Avocado oil in our fridge. The only thing I did not have was the soft flour that you dig. I did use all purpose unbleached flour, but may I share something? I will swear on my whisk that this is true….I searched on line for the White Lily A.P. bleached flour and while readily available, there is a cooking warehouse type of store near downtown Los Angeles…..It was half of the prices I saw on line, and I did the 30 mile round trip to get a 5 pound bag of White Lily. Even snagged a bottle of Passion Fruit syrup :). Thank you Sam, sincerely.

  8. 5 stars
    I love how easy and delicious this shortbread is! The dough comes together so quick too. In full disclosure, I cut the recipe in half and baked it in a loaf pan. I realized halfway through that instead of cutting the salt and vanilla in half I accidentally used the full amount. They still taste great though!!