Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shortbread A Sweet Glow-Up

Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shortbread A Sweet Glow-Up

      Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shortbread A Sweet Glow-Up

      Fifteen years ago, I unveiled a recipe for what I deemed one of the most delectable cookies I had ever encountered: brown butter brown sugar shortbread. Infused with the irresistible flavors of nutty brown butter, rich brown sugar, and fragrant vanilla, these cookies were a culinary masterpiece. However, their unassuming appearance—lacking in vibrant colors and fancy decorations—led me to advise keeping them close at hand, away from the bustling party scene where they might be overshadowed by their more visually striking counterparts.
      Yet, despite their unparalleled taste, the recipe fell short for many. The culprit? Brown butter's unpredictable nature. While its flavor is divine, the varying water content in brown butter poses challenges when it comes to achieving consistent results, particularly in shaped cookies where uniformity is key. Countless comments poured in recounting crumbly mishaps, prompting me to issue a cautionary note urging caution and tempered expectations.
      However, I refused to accept defeat. Determined to salvage this beloved recipe, I embarked on a quest for a breakthrough. And lo and behold, the solution emerged: retain the cookie's delectable essence while ditching the pre-oven structure. By baking the shortbread in a pan, akin to the revered classic shortbread cookies, we ensure that the sides hold their shape, freeing the cookies from the constraints of uniformity. Post-baking, they are effortlessly sliced into delectable squares.
      But why stop there? After years of languishing in the shadows, these shortbread gems deserved a dazzling transformation for the holiday season—a chance to bask in the spotlight they so rightfully deserve. Thus, a simple yet elegant squiggle of icing adorns their surface, elevating their appearance and granting them the recognition they've long been denied. Fifteen years is an eternity; it's high time to give these treats the recognition they deserve. I urge you to whip up a batch of these delightful brown butter brown sugar shortbread cookies immediately.

      Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shortbread

      1 cup (225 grams or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
      1 1/2 tablespoons water
      2 cups plus 3 tablespoons (290 grams) all-purpose flour
      2/3 cup (145 grams) packed dark brown sugar
      1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
      1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

      Optional Icing
      1/2 cup (60 grams) powdered sugar
      1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

      1.      Brown the butter: In a medium saucepan or frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Cook until the butter turns a deep golden brown and emits a nutty aroma. Remove from heat and pour the browned butter into a medium bowl. Place the bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes until the butter solidifies.
      2.      Prepare the oven: Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper, leaving some overhang for easy removal.
      3.      Make the dough: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the solidified brown butter chunks, water, flour, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla bean paste or extract. Mix until a smooth dough forms.
      4.      Press the dough: Transfer the dough to the prepared cake pan. Use your fingers or an offset spatula to press the dough evenly into the pan.
      5.      Bake the shortbread: Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges are lightly golden brown.
      6.      Shape the shortbread: Remove the pan from the oven and use a knife or bench scraper to lightly score the shortbread into desired shapes. Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the shortbread is golden brown and set.
      7.      Make the icing (optional): In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Adjust the consistency by adding more lemon juice if needed.
      8.      Finish and serve: Allow the shortbread to cool completely in the pan before removing and cutting into pieces. Drizzle with the optional icing, if desired. Enjoy!

      Browning the Butter
      1.    In a medium saucepan or frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Allow it to melt, foam, and turn clear golden with toasted speckles appearing. Once these speckles appear, remove the pan from the burner as the residual heat will continue to toast the butter.
      2.    Pour the browned butter along with the toasty flecks into a medium bowl, then transfer it to the freezer to chill.

      Chilling the Browned Butter
      1.    Freeze the butter in the bowl for 30 minutes.
      2.    After 30 minutes, give the butter a full stir, scraping down the sides and mixing the still melted parts in the center over the solidified chunks.
      3.    Return the bowl to the freezer for another 30 minutes until the butter is solid throughout.
      4.    Cut the butter into chunks directly in the bowl.

      Preparing the Oven and Pan
      1.    Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).
      2.    Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper, ensuring that it extends up two sides. Greasing the pan is unnecessary.

      Making the Shortbread Dough
      1.    In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or using a hand mixer, beat the browned butter chunks, brown sugar, and salt together until evenly mixed.
      2.    Add the vanilla, water, and flour, and mix just until combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.
      3.    Alternatively, in a food processor, pulse together the brown sugar, salt, and flour. Add the cold browned butter chunks, vanilla, and water, pulsing until the mixture forms a smooth mass.

      Forming and Baking the Shortbread
      1.    Transfer the shortbread dough to the prepared baking pan, pressing it into an even, flat layer with your fingers. Use an offset spatula to smooth the top.
      2.    Bake the shortbread for 30 minutes. It will not be fully baked yet, but remove it from the oven briefly to shape it.

      Shaping and Finishing
      1.    Use the back of a paring knife or a bench scraper to make light line indentations barely 1/4-inch into the shortbread, about 1 inch apart.
      2.    At about a 45-degree angle from the first lines, make remaining indentations 1.5 inches apart.
      3.    Use a very thin, sharp paring knife to cut along these lines to the bottom of the pan.
      4.    Dock the shortbread with the back of a wooden skewer for aesthetics, about 1/3 of the way into the cookie.
      5.    Return the shortbread to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until more deeply golden at the edges. Let it cool completely in the pan before separating along the cut lines.

      Optional Icing
      1.    Space the shortbread evenly on a rack placed over a tray to catch drips.
      2.    In a small bowl, mix together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until you achieve a thick but drizzle-able consistency.
      3.    Transfer the icing to a sandwich bag, snip a tiny bit of the corner off, and drizzle the icing over the shortbread.
      4.    Allow the icing to set for one hour at room temperature.

      Do Ahead
      The shortbread keeps for 1 week at room temperature and freezes well. Wrap it tightly and refrain from icing until defrosted.


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