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Bourbon, Brown Butter, and Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies

Bourbon, Brown Butter, and Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies
The final tally is in, and this year we raised a total of $13,778.40 for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer! That’s a lot of cookies doing a lot of good. We initially set out to raise $10K this year, and due in part to our generous brand partners (thank you OXO, Gold Medal Flour, Dixie Crystals, and Grandma’s Molasses), we were able to meet that goal and then some!

Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is a national non-profit organization dedicated to funding research to find safer, more effective treatments for pediatric cancer. They have provided over $5 million in research grants to pediatric cancer centers since they were founded in 2008. Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is truly making a difference and we are so proud and honored to support them with this event. If you are looking for additional ways to contribute to this amazing organization, you can host a fundraising event, order cookies online, or make a donation directly.

This year’s Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap was our biggest yet, with 622 participants. That’s 22,392 cookies (if you care to do the math). I love seeing bloggers from around the world baking and enjoying cookies, strengthening the community, and supporting a great cause at the same time. It doesn’t get any better than that. I can’t wait for next year!

Bourbon, Brown Butter, and Vanilla Bean Shortbread

And now, on to the cookies!

This year, I surprised myself with a non-chocolate cookie recipe. Which is an accomplishment for me, as I usually gravitate towards anything and everything chocolate.

Don’t be fooled by their plain appearance; these golden rounds aren’t as innocent as they look. In addition to the nutty brown butter and aromatic vanilla bean, they are spiked with a generous glug of bourbon. I’m not talking about a measly teaspoon of liquor either. Enough so you can taste the bourbon even after they’ve been baked (otherwise, what’s the point?) Just take it easy on the dough tasties or you may end up with a bit of a buzz.

Bourbon, Brown Butter, and Vanilla Bean Shortbread

Shortbread cookies, with or without booze, are a perfect cookie for shipping, as the sandy, crumbly texture can’t really dry out anymore, so the cookies will be as good on day 5 as they were fresh out of the oven, filled with buttery flavor that melts in your mouth.

(Also, if you’re looking for the printable tags featured in this post, you can download them for free right here!)

Browned Butter

Oh brown butter… how I love thee. You have a way of giving cookies a depth and nutty richness that plain butter just can’t replicate.

To make brown butter, well, you brown butter. Melt it down in a skillet and cook it until the bits in the bottom get toasty and golden brown. Then pour it into a container lined with tin foil, and refrigerate until it’s solid once again. You can use brown butter in baking much as you would regular butter, except hold on to your britches because adding brown butter will take your cookies from zero to AMAZING in an instant. It’s like the miracle ingredient you never knew you had in your refrigerator.

It’s brilliant, I tell you!

2013 Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

The next best part of this whole cookie swap business, aside from baking the cookies, is receiving them! I got some tasty ones this year, including Salted Brown Sugar Toffee Cookies from Wit & Vinegar, Fudge Brownie Cherry Pistachio Cookies from Ambrosia Baking, and Salted Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies from The Little Kitchen.

Seriously, if I ever say I do this for anything BUT the cookies, I’m lying. It’s why we started this cookie swap and while we will continue to organize it every year for the foreseeable future. Yay, cookies!

FoodieCrush Feature on the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Well look who it is! We’re so excited that our baby, this cookie swap that we created almost on a whim 3 years ago, has grown to what it is today. Be sure to check out the feature in the holiday issue of Foodie Crush magazine, out today! We’re honored and humbled to be included in such a beautiful digital publication.

Finally, if you are a food blogger interested in participating in next year’s swap, be sure to sign up for our notifications list. We will send an email blast to this list when sign ups open next October. And after seeing the amazing things that have come out of this year’s swap, who knows what’s in store for next year!

Update 12/20/13: After a few comments that these cookies turned out ‘chalky’ I have updated the recipe slightly to include more specifics on ingredients and process to (hopefully) prevent this. I highly recommend splurging on high-quality, European-style butter. Since 90% of the flavor in these cookies comes from the butter, it’s worth it. American butter has less butterfat and therefore more water, which is cooked out during the browning process. Less butterfat will make for a more crumbly dough. While I haven’t been able to reproduce any chalkiness in subsequent test batches, that’s my best guess. Better butter is better, clearly. :)

Bourbon, Brown Butter, and Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies

Yield: 30 cookies

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 24 hours

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter*
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeded
  • 2 1/4 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour**
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup bourbon

*Go for the good stuff. European-style butter (such as Kerrygold or Plugra) is going to give you much better flavor and a less crumbly dough.
**The key to tender shortbread is low-protein. Regular AP flour works in most cases, however if you are having issues (some brands simply have higher protein than others) you can substitute 1/4 cup of the AP flour with cake flour to lower the overall protein.

Directions:

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until butter solids (the bits that separate in the bottom of the pan) turn a deep amber color, about 7 to 8 minutes. Watch this closely, as the butter will go from brown to burnt very quickly if you're not careful. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes.

Line a heat-proof container with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Pour brown butter into container, then refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours or overnight, until butter has returned to its solid state. Remove from refrigerator and bring to room temperature, then dump into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium-high speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until light and fluffy and no visible chunks remain. Add brown sugar and continue to beat for 1 to 2 minutes more. Add vanilla bean seeds and mix until incorporated.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt until evenly blended. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix on low speed until almost incorporated. Add bourbon and mix on low speed until mixture comes together into a crumbly dough. Do not overwork the dough.

Divide dough into two portions, then place in the center of a sheet of plastic wrap, forming into a 10-inch log. Roll tightly with plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining dough. You should end up with two 10-inch logs approximately 1-3/4 inches in diameter (about the size of a paper towel tube). Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight, until firm. You can place the logs in a paper towel tube if you like, which will help them keep their round shape when refrigerated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Remove logs from refrigerator; remove and discard plastic wrap. With a sharp knife, cut into 3/8-inch-thick slices and arrange on baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch of space between each cookie. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are set and bottom edges are light golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies will keep, stored in an airtight container, for up to 1 week.

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55 CommentsLeave a Comment →

  1. 1
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 5:42 am

    Bourbon, Brown Butter, and Vanilla Bean = some of my fave things right there! I can only imagine how tasty and rich these cookies are with great, deep flavor!

    Congrats to you and Julie for pulling off an amazing event!

    Reply

  2. 2
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 5:59 am

    You just took all my favorite flavours and put them into my favorite cookie. I am seriously dying over here.  I thought I was all done my Christmas baking but these are definitely a must-make. You can’t go wrong with butter ‘n booze. Ever. Pinned!

    Reply

  3. 3
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 6:30 am

    I’m so excited to see the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap recipes starting to roll out! I love that you can bake shortbread ahead of time. It’s tricky to find cookies that taste oven-fresh a few days later. 

    Reply

  4. 4
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 7:15 am

    These look so tasty. I love cookies. 

    Tab

    Reply

  5. 5
    Vickie
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Congratulations! These cookies look absolutely amazing and I swear I can smell the aroma through the monitor. I’ve been binge baking and these have been added to the list…thanks again!

    Reply

  6. 6
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 7:32 am

    I’m making these this weekend. For sure.

    Reply

  7. 7
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 8:22 am

    Holy smokes!! This flavour looks perfect!

    Reply

  8. 8
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 8:29 am

    congrats on the feature and these absolutely gorgeous cookies!!  had so much fun with this year’s swap!! xx

    Reply

  9. 9
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Gorgous! Love the cookie swap. Wish I could’ve participated this year. These look amazing.

    Reply

  10. 10
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Love these cookies, they look delicious! Thank you for hosting such an incredible cookie swap – I am already counting down the days until next year!

    Reply

  11. 11
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 9:19 am

    I have been waiting for this recipe for weeks!! These were amazing. Thank you again for the delicious cookies and for organizing this GREAT cookie exchange!!

    Reply

    • Posted On December 11, 2013 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks, Zainab!! So glad you enjoyed the cookies! :)

  12. 12
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 9:24 am

    What a fantastic recipe! Thanks for spending the time to host the cookie swap! This was my first year participating and I will absolutely be doing it again! 

    Reply

  13. 13
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 9:42 am

    YUM! I love shortbread cookies. I’m not the best at baking them, but I’m really good at eating them :) I love your addition of bourbon and vanilla – I love that flavor combination!

    Reply

  14. 14
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 9:49 am

    These look so good! I hope you end up with my name as your partner next year! ha ha!

    Reply

  15. 15
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 9:55 am

    these look amazing – so simple and crumbly. I love the bourbon addition. I put it in my pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and it was wonderful.

    Reply

  16. 16
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks so much for letting us be a part of such a wonderful goal!!

    Reply

  17. 17
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    These were AMAZING! I loved them. You’re brilliant. And adorable!
    I LOVE that blue top/dress in the feature photo! Where is it from??
    And I’m totally making these again soon. Buzzed on cookies is my favorite state of mind ;) Merry Christmas Lindsay! and Thank you again!

    Reply

    • Posted On December 11, 2013 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks, Melissa! So glad you enjoyed the cookies. :)
      The dress is a shirt-dress from BCBG. Bought it on RueLaLa a few years ago. Love it for cooler weather. :)

  18. 18
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    You took all of my favorite things and baked them into a cookie! Also, congrats on the swap’s success. That’s amazing!

    Reply

  19. 19
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    I had so much fun participating in the swap this year! Can’t wait for next year! These cookies look wonderful. I haven’t made any shortbread yet, so I might have to give these a try over the holidays!

    Reply

  20. 20
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Oh wow, these look absolutely amazing!! I need to try these! I’m loving all of the different recipes– thanks so much for organizing such a wonderful thing!

    Reply

  21. 21
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I love the flavors in this shortbread cookie. I’ll definitely be saving this recipe to try soon.

    Reply

  22. 22
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Love this recipe! I have enjoyed participating in the 2013 Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! Can’t wait until next year:) Lynn @ Turnips 2 Tangerines

    Reply

  23. 23
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Wow, these look delicious! Bourbon and Vanilla Bean…can not wait to try. I just signed up to participate in next year’s Cookie Swap. So bummed I missed out this year!

    Reply

  24. 24
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    YUM :) Brown butter makes everything better!
    Thank you all so much for hosting – this was my first time participating and it was so much fun!

    Reply

  25. 25
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    The German name for this cookie is “Heidesand”. It is my very favorite Christmas cookie and already on the to bake list for next weekend. I love the addition of the bourbon and will definitely give your version a try. Thanks, Lindsay, and Merry Christmas!

    Reply

  26. 26
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    Great work ladies on a wonderful cookie exchange! It was so much fun sending and receiving cookies! These cookies look lovely and fantastic!

    Reply

  27. 27
    Posted On December 11, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    I have been loving everything bourbon lately. I’m sure these will be no exception. :) 

    Reply

  28. 28
    Karen Tannenbaum
    Posted On December 12, 2013 at 8:06 am

    I am definitely making these, but am wondering if I can sub in a half tsp of vanilla bean paste in place of the vanilla bean? Sorry. Also, will probably have to sip some bourbon while preparing these. Will let you know. how they turn out.

    Reply

  29. 29
    Posted On December 12, 2013 at 8:25 am

    I’m always looking for a new cookie to make during the holidays. Your bourbon and brown sugar cookie sounds terrific.

    Reply

  30. 30
    Posted On December 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

    SO great that the charitable component was added to this fun cookie exchange – what could be better than to bake and help others – simply perfect!  I am a bit obsessed with shortbread cookies and yours look and sound amazing!  Thank you again for putting on this fun event and can’t wait for 2014!

    Reply

  31. 31
    Posted On December 12, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Love it so much, I really do hope that next year I can participate :)

    Reply

  32. 32
    Posted On December 12, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    These look so fabulous– you had me at ‘brown butter’! Can’t wait to try them. Thanks so much for hosting this awesome cookie swap. I’m excited to do it again next year! :)

    Reply

  33. 33
    Emma
    Posted On December 12, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    I’ve just moved to Kentucky and am looking to use Bourbon in everything!  Just curious why you need to line the container with foil or plastic wrap to hold the browned butter?  Thanks so much!

    Reply

    • Posted On December 12, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      It makes the butter easier to remove from the container once it’s solidified. Otherwise it’d be quite tricky!

  34. 34
    Posted On December 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Lindsay, these sounds amazing!! Love that there is a whole 1/4 cup of bourbon in there. :) Oh, and such a wonderful spread in FoodieCrush! Love you and Julie!

    Reply

  35. 35
    Posted On December 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    GOD I’m so sad that I missed out on this year’s cookie swap – I found out too late :( I really want to join next year if possible!

    Also, these cookies = amazing. Bourbon. So into it.

    Reply

  36. 36
    Posted On December 14, 2013 at 8:41 am

    This sounds delicious and, of course, I’m always intrigued by the mixture of liquor and food.  I posted a link to this post on my website at http://www.rawinthemiddle.com/link-love-4/.  Have a great weekend!

    Reply

  37. 37
    Kristen
    Posted On December 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    How crumbly should the dough be? I’m in the middle if making these and am panicking a little. I’m having a tough time getting them to form logs. Should I be worried or add a little milk?

    Reply

    • Posted On December 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

      It is a pretty crumbly dough. I used the plastic wrap to really help me form it into a log. Once chilled it’ll hold together when you slice. But if you are worried, you could add a bit of water or even more bourbon if you felt like it. :)

  38. 38
    Posted On December 16, 2013 at 6:30 am

    The bourbon sounds like an incredible addition to shortbread, beautiful for gift giving. Pinned!

    Reply

  39. 39
    Posted On December 17, 2013 at 5:06 am

    I had so much fun this year with this cookie swap. Mine also had browned butter. So amazing! These cookies sound divine!!

    Reply

  40. 40
    Erin B.
    Posted On December 17, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Hi Lindsay,
    I made these cookies yesterday, and while the texture and flavor are pretty good, they have a sort of chalky aftertaste that I attribute to the cornstarch. I’ve never used cornstarch in a cookie recipe before and am curious – what scientifically does it help the cookies do when they bake? Is it replacing baking powder or baking soda in some way? Thanks! 

    Reply

    • Posted On December 18, 2013 at 7:32 am

      The cornstarch makes the cookie more tender and melt-in-your-mouth. I didn’t notice the chalkiness you are mentioning, but the cookie wouldn’t suffer at all if you reduced it next time or even left it out completely, I think it’d be just fine.

    • Posted On December 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      Hi Erin – I’ve updated the recipe to hopefully help with this ‘chalkiness’ you describe. After testing it a few more times, I think it might be the butter. Worth it to splurge on the good stuff! Also, slightly less flour and even a combo of AP and cake flour, and making sure you don’t overmix the dough. Should help! :)

    • Posted On February 25, 2014 at 3:10 pm

      Lindsay – I realized I never said thank you for the re-testing of the recipe! I haven’t had a chance to try the revised version, but I hope to do so very soon. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness!

  41. 41
    Corey
    Posted On December 18, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Lindsay,
    These sound fantastic, but I don’t do alcohol. What would you suggest as a substitution? Normally I’d leave it out, but that would cut the liquid too much in this recipe, I think.

    Reply

    • Posted On December 18, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      Much of the alcohol bakes off, leaving just the flavor in the final cookies. But if you wanted to do without alcohol, I’d maybe just add a tablespoon of liquid (water or milk maybe) at a time until the dough comes together.

  42. 42
    Virginia
    Posted On December 18, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    So I just made three batches of these…the first was so dry it wouldn’t hold a log shape. So to the next batch I added more bourbon (as per your rec ^), they were still crumbly and fell apart when I cut them…on the third try I  doubled the bourbon. These guys stuck together, but I couldn’t taste the bourbon (with a full cup in the dough) and they were totally chalky. Am I missing something? What could I be doing wrong? Please help!!!

    Reply

    • Posted On December 19, 2013 at 6:44 am

      That is very strange, sorry you had trouble with these! With 1/4 cup of bourbon my dough was slightly crumbly, but I used the plastic wrap to help force it into a log shape. After chilling overnight it sliced easily and did not crumble at all, and I could discern the aroma of bourbon in the final cookies. I know others have made these successfully so I’m trying to figure out what could have gone wrong.

  43. 43
    Jubal
    Posted On February 7, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Rather than a knife (it is a plane cutting into a crumbly round), I use a garrotte of either stainless steel wire or unflavored dental floss. Slide the strand under the log, cross your arms, grab the ends and pull each end simultaneously. The strand cuts evenly and without any crumbling or mess. Works on many materials.

    Reply

  44. 44
    Posted On September 14, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    I love shortbread and would eat with at every meal!  Thank goodness for the ones with bourbon too!  Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply

  45. 45
    Barbara
    Posted On December 7, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Can I ask what was the proof of the bourbon you used? I use a 100 proof and the cookies spread out a lot while baking and were almost too delicate to remove from the baking sheet. The only other thing I can think of is that, although I measured, the amount of flour was off. Otherwise they taste wonderful!

    Reply

  46. 46
    Ann
    Posted On December 15, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    I don’t have access to vanilla beans at the moment – what would you recommend in terms of substituting vanilla extract?

    Reply

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