Can’t Miss Vanilla Shortbread Cookies and A New Sweetener

Vanilla and European butter are all you need to make these cookies sing.

There are some people who will turn up their nose if a baked good has cardamom in it. Or raisins. Or coconut. Or even chocolate (if you can believe that).

But nobody ever shuns vanilla.

Nope, not ever.

It’s the most popular flavor for so many things because it is the pure taste of childhood memories.

Of ice cream dripping off cones on a hot summer day. Of birthday cake with candles to blow out. Of cupcakes with a mountain of frosting to get all over your face.

That’s why I guarantee nobody will turn down one of these “Vanilla Shortbread Cookies.”

The recipe is from “Bon Appetit Desserts” (Andrews McMeel) by the magazine’s former editor-in-chief, Barbara Fairchild.

European butter makes these cookies extra rich. Powdered sugar and cornstarch makes them very tender, yet nicely crumbly. With a teaspoon of vanilla extract, the dough gets rolled into logs to chill until firm. Then, slices are baked until golden on the edges.

The recipe calls for granulated sugar, too. But I used a new sweetener instead, of which I had received a sample. Organic Samovar Sweet Crystals are made from organic evaporated coconut palm nectar. Farmers in Bali climb palm trees and tap the fruit for nectar, which is then dried and crystallized.

A sweetner with the scent of graham crackers.

The organic Sweet Crystals are available at Samovar.

The resulting crystals look a bit like Muscavado or Demerara sugar, but have a drier consistency. The smell is of graham crackers and the taste is buttery, malty and molasses-like.

You can stir the crystals into tea for a softer, more complex flavor than regular sugar. In baked goods like this shortbread, the crystals add little amber speckles of color, turning the dough a warm beige color. The crystals add a slight browned-butter, toffee-like note. When baking, use 1 1/2 cups of crystals for 1 cup of granulated sugar.

The Sweet Crystals are available at Samovar tea lounges in San Francisco or through the company’s online site. A 14-ounce bag is $14.

If you don’t want to spring for the Sweet Crystals, these cookies turn out just fine with granulated sugar.

Remember, they’re vanilla — you can’t go wrong.

Vanilla Shortbread Cookies

(Makes about 3 dozen)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted European-style butter, room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar (or 1/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons Samovar Sweet Crystals)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture in 3 additions, mixing until just blended each time. Gather dough into a ball; divide in half. Roll each half into a 6-inch log; wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in center of oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Cut each log crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices on 2 heavy large rimmed baking sheets, spacing 1/2 inch apart (cookies will spread very little). Bake cookies 9 minutes. Switch baking sheets on racks and bake just until cookies turn golden brown at the edges, about 9 minutes longer. Cool cookies on sheets 1 minute. Using thin metal spatula, transfer cookies to racks and cool. (Cookies can be made 3 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)

Adapted from “Bon Appetit Desserts”

More Can’t-Miss Cookies: Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Chocolate Chip Cookies

And: Peanut Butter Cookies with Milk Chocolate Chunks

And: Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares

And: Orange Butter Cookies

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  • An interesting sweetener! I have never heard of it.

    Those shortbread cookies look wonderful.



  • So happy to see this form of coconut sugar! Just asked someone if they would consider using it after seeing their coconut muffins. Great swap out!

  • Yum. I always get excited to hear about new sugars and salts.

  • OMG where would I find European butter? Anything rich is good with me!

  • I always wanted to try the new sugars – also wondered how they tasted compared to Muscovado.

  • Yes, I love vanilla! (And anything with cardamon, as well!) Too bad these cookies are probably too much butter for me. But I am intrigued by that sugar. Sounds interesting.

  • I love the texture and color they seem to give your cookies! I’m also a huge fan of Samovar so this recipe (with your adjustments) sounds like a MUST try!

  • I have never tried this sweetener but from your description it sounds like the manufacture really cares about this product (which is important!). I love cardamom or raisins and that would be nice ingredients too but I agree. Vanilla is an amazing spice comes to think of it… Your cookies look delicious! I’m afraid I finish all myself and I am capable of doing so… Great recipe to keep!

  • I can hardly wait to bake these lovely cookies. I just need to find Samovar in WI Also the other cookie recipes are a must – because they container my favorite food – chocolate. These are definitely recipes to share.

  • what a nifty new sweetener! nice find, carolyn, and you’re right about vanilla–it doesn’t seem to offend anyone!

  • I only use this sugar coconut sugar in my cooking & baking. It has a lower glycemix index than honey & it is so good for you too with several minerals,etc.
    It also gives a really caramel flavour in baking dishes like crumbles, etc. Good for you that you finally tasted it! But it is very expensive over here: 1 large pot of 400 grams= 13.50 Euros!! Really! 🙁

  • I would never have a problem with cardamom in shortbread, but then vanilla doesn’t bother me either. 🙂 These look SO good! Thanks for sharing info on samovar. I’ve never heard of it, but I’ll keep an eye out for it. Hope you had a great weekend!

  • You’re right about the vanilla… I haven’t met one person who has said ‘i don’t like vanilla’! Thank you for a gorgeous shortbread recipe… the samovar sounds interesting, too! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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