Love and Olive Oil

Bourbon, Brown Butter, and Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies

Bourbon, Brown Butter, and Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies
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!

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, 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.

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!

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

Did you make this recipe?


  • 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.


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.

All images and text © / Love & Olive Oil

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  1. I did make this recipe. It was as close as I could come to the “Brown Butter Cookie Co” located in California.  I thought it was almost perfect.  I did add a little more (2T) and I used 1/8t of powdered vanilla because vanilla beans are so expensive.  I also sprinkled some flake sea salt on top, only because I like that taste, but not too much.  I found I needed to bake longer than 12 minutes to get the “color” I wanted but I do use an oven dial for accuracy on temperature.  These are wonderful.. I’ve made them more than once.  I also wanted to point out to CHECK THE LABEL on the butter you’re purchasing.  I have found here in California MOST butters (35-38%) labeled “European Style” are really the same or just 1-2 percent higher in butterfat.  But there ARE butters out there with the much higher (and more delicious) butterfat percentage.  Thats my story and I’m sticking to it. :) These cookies are EXCELLENT!  Sorry I’m so many YEARS behind everyone else… 

  2. Hello! These were amazing the first time I made them. One question: they did not spread out at ALL and so remained little pucks the size of my dough log. Your pictures seem to imply they should have spread out a bit. Any thoughts on why that might be?

    • Shortbread isn’t supposed to spread. If you’d like larger cookies you can roll a thicker log next time. :)

    • Ha, good to know it actually turned out correctly! I’ll try rolling them out a bit larger this time around. Thanks for always providing such quicky and helpful responses!

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