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!

  3. Amazing!!  I added chopped cherries and orange peel to 1/2 for an “old fashion”.  Not too sweet, browned bits and savory from the browned butter. I’m definitely making these again!  Thank you!!

  4. Love the flavor of this one! The browned butter is truly out of his world! Now I can’t imagine not browning butter in all my cookies recipes!
    That said I did find it a bit chalky. I made the following adjustments, if anyone is interested:
    1) omit the cornstarch entirely
    2) bake it low and slow: 160 degC (325F) at 18 minutes.
    Don’t eat them fresh. Let them set for a least a few hours, or better still, chill them. Turned out so much better for me!

  5. I made a version of this today by combining may dad’s favorite old time recipe, which uses only cake flour, with your recipe and it is sooooo good! It’s the browned butter, vanilla and the bourbon that make it over the top! Thanks. :)

  6. These cookies were a game changer! That was delicious and what a great combination! I used the Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon and it added another layer of flavor. I think I browned my butter slightly too much because the vanilla bean seeds could not be seen. I ended up using vanilla bean paste since my local spice shop was out of vanilla beans. Again, great recipe!!

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

  8. 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!

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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!!!

    • 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.

  12. 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.

    • 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.

    • I guess if I didn’t do alcohol I’d look for a recipe that didn’t have “Bourbon” in its name. lol

  13. 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! 

    • 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.

    • 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! :)

    • 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!

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

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

  16. 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?

    • 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. :)

  17. 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  Have a great weekend!

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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!

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

  21. 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! :)

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

  23. 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!

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

  25. 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.

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

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

  28. 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!

  29. 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!

  30. 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!

  31. 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

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

  33. 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!

  34. 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!

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

  36. 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!

    • 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. :)

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

  38. 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.

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

  40. 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!

  41. 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! 

  42. 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!!

  43. 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!

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

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

  46. Holy smokes!! This flavour looks perfect!

  47. I’m making these this weekend. For sure.

  48. 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!

  49. 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. 

  50. These look so tasty. I love cookies. 


  51. 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!

  52. 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!

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