Lemon, Rosemary and Olive Oil Shortbread

Lemon, rosemary and olive oil shortbread

My grandmother Mimi was known for her homemade shortbread. Unfortunately, I can’t remember ever tasting her shortbread. She was 70 years old when I was born and, naturally, her cooking aspirations declined with age. By the time I was old enough to help in the kitchen, she wasn’t doing much cooking. We made old-fashioned fudge together, I remember that. She always served me bacon and Welch’s grape fruit for breakfast because it was just what I wanted.

I pick up on little tidbits about Mimi’s cooking from my dad, like that she fried her grilled cheese sandwiches with some shredded cheese on the outside like I do. And last winter, the scent of my friend’s pot roast almost brought me to my knees—not because I love the smell of beef, but because it took me back in time to Mimi’s kitchen.

olive oil shortbread ingredients

Mimi was born in 1915, the last of five children. My great grandmother’s family came from Scotland so maybe shortbread runs in the blood. Rumor has it that in high school, Mimi decided to add an “e” to the end of her middle name because she liked the extra flourish it provided. Mildred Kathryne looks nice, I think. She had two sons, seventeen years apart, with my grandfather. The love of her life. When I was little, their exceptional fondness for one another was as real and warm as Mimi’s soft cashmere sweaters.

Joy of Cooking Scotch shortbread recipe

The subject of Mimi’s shortbread tends to come up around the holidays. I have wanted to attempt it for a while now, but I was afraid mine might not match up. After all, I don’t know what her shortbread tasted like. I don’t know if she shaped it into round cookies or petticoat tails. I’m not sure I have her recipe. All I know is that I have her brown eyes, her long piano fingers and her name. Surely that counts for something.

Since Mimi isn’t here for me to ask about shortbread, I conceded that I would just have to figure it out the hard way, through intuition and trial and error. I would have to come up with my own favorite version. Then California Olive Ranch, makers of my favorite, go-to olive oil, challenged me to come up with a holiday treat made with olive oil instead of butter.

I thought that since I’m making this shortbread my own, I’d try it with olive oil. Not because I have any problem at all with Mimi’s buttery shortbread—she lived to 90 and I don’t think butter did her any harm—but because the concept of an herbal, lemony, sweet and savory olive oil shortbread appealed to me. Plus, using olive oil instead of butter would make the recipe dairy free/vegan, so more people could enjoy it at holiday parties. I picked up a bottle of California Olive Ranch’s everyday olive oil for a little over ten dollars at the local health food store and got to work.

rosemary flour and olive oil

I found a recipe for Scotch shortbread in Mimi’s tattered copy of Joy of Cooking, so that seemed like a good place to start. I went online and read about standard ingredient ratios for shortbread and the history of shortbread (it was first made in Scotland out of oat flour). Oat flour sounded like a good idea to me at first, since I could then share the cookies with my gluten-free friends. My oat flour and olive oil shortbread was a mess of crumbs, though.

Four batches of shortbread later, I have finalized my own shortbread recipe. I think Mimi would approve. I ended up using white whole wheat flour, which holds together a little better than the oat flour and is more manageable than whole wheat pastry flour. I added sea salt to enhance the complex flavors found in the olive oil. I also had the best luck with baking the shortbread in a square baker; no matter how long I chilled the dough, it was still difficult to shape into rounds. The method written below yielded the best texture and flavor. Be sure to follow the instructions about cooling the shortbread a little before slicing or it will crumble on you.

California Olive Ranch olive oilJoy of Cooking and shortbread doughlemon, rosemary, olive oil shortbread doughBaked lemon, rosemary and olive oil shortbreadlemon, rosemary and olive oil shortbread close-up

3.0 from 2 reviews

Lemon, Rosemary and Olive Oil Shortbread
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Scottish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 32
 
Light and crisp, sweet and savory shortbread made with olive oil instead of butter.
Ingredients
  • 3 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1¼ cup powdered sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 lemons (preferably organic), zested
  • 1 cup California Olive Ranch Everyday Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, rosemary and lemon zest. Pour in the olive oil and stir until all of the dry mixture is incorporated.
  2. Transfer the dough to a 9 by 9-inch baker (my porcelain one didn’t require greasing, but you might want to grease your pan first to be safe). Use your fingers to squish the dough into an even layer. Prick the surface of the dough all over with a fork (a diagonal pattern looks nice). Bake until the surface feels firm to the touch and is lightly golden around the edges (keep an eye on it), about 45 to 55 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and let the pan cool for 20 minutes. Then, using a very sharp knife, slice the shortbread into 8 even columns and 4 even rows (cookies will be roughly 1 inch wide by 2½ inches long). Try to let the cookies cool before using a small spatula to remove them from the pan, or serve them directly from the pan.
Notes
  • Recipe adapted, through trial and error, from Joy of Cooking and Wendy Paul Creations.
  • Yields about 32 cookies.
  • I think a gluten-free flour blend would work well here. If you want to try using oat flour, you’ll need to use at least 3½ cups (or more) since oat flour weighs less by volume than whole wheat flour.
  • *Make your own powdered sugar: pour 1 cup sugar into a blender or food processor and blend until fine and fluffy. I used fine grain organic cane sugar.
  • Recipe updated 12/22: temperature reduced by 25 degrees and baking time extended to reduce browning of the olive oil. Many, many apologies to anyone whose shortbread got too toasty around the edges. 350 degrees works great if you chill the dough before baking, but 325 is best for room temperature dough.

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by California Olive Ranch and I received compensation for my participation. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who allow me to serve up more recipes. Opinions are my own, always.

Comments

  1. says

    That looks great, Kate. It’s too bad the oat flour didn’t work out. I love that stuff. But the final product looks wonderful. Thank you for sharing :-)

  2. Pam says

    Can’t wait to try this recipe, as I’ve substituted King Arthur white whole wheat flour for all purpose, and love when a recipe is already adapted. Plus, California Olive Ranch is my go-to extra virgin. What’s not to love? Must say, every recipe I’ve tried of yours (and that’s been a lot) have been winners. Thanks for offering a marvelous blog!

    • says

      Thank you, Pam! Just delighted to hear that you enjoy my recipes. I’m a big fan of King Arthur flour and California Olive Ranch oil, too. Hope you love this shortbread recipe!

  3. says

    Aww I love this story Kathryne. My Gran (also from Scotland) was famous for her Scottish shortbread, as well as her Yorkshire puddings. Like you, I was young when my Gran was in her prime cooking years, but I remember her taking me shopping, spoiling me rotten, and playing with my cousins and I in the garden. Her handwritten shortbread recipe currently sits in my mum’s kitchen somewhere, and I don’t actually remember ever tasting a batch that she made – I was only about 5 when she passed away from cancer. Regardless though, I still think of her every time my mum makes it. Now you can pass your own shortbread recipe down to your kids and grandkids!

    • says

      Angela, you always leave the most thoughtful comments. Thank you! I’m so glad we have fond memories of our sweet grandmothers. Maybe I’ll find Mimi’s go-to shortbread recipe someday. I’m glad you have your grandmother’s recipe!

  4. Syd Sullins says

    Love your memories of your mimi; that’s what all our kids called my mother. And your memories of kitchen time with your mimi reminds me of “helping” my grandma. Shortbread recipe sounds awesome. I’m trying that for our Christmas!

  5. Lacey says

    Well this looks perfect. I’ve made shortbread once it was topped with a pecan parish topping and I forgot to add the pecans in the shortbread! It was still delish. I’m excited to make these for a Tea party going away party. Stock piling my recipes now :)

  6. says

    What wonderful flavours. I love rosemary and olive oil in sweet dishes – one of my favourite recipes is for a chocolate, rosemary and olive oil cake. I bet these are delicious and the lemon is such a lovely fresh touch.

  7. says

    Kathryne, I love this beautiful tribute to your Mimi.
    The shortbread recipe sounds delightful… I could totally make this happen now and all I would have to do is walk half a mile to pick up some fresh rosemary and more olive oil.
    This recipe kinda reminds me of an olive oil and rosemary cake with chocolate chips that I once made from 101 Cookbooks. The combination seemed odd in an interesting way and I knew I had to find out for myself. It did not disappoint and I am positive this would turn out great as well.
    I am in awe at your patience in cooking/baking by trial and error until you perfect a recipe… You should read this beautiful post by Olga if you’re interested, it made me think of you and your recipe testing awesomeness:
    http://www.sassyradish.com/2013/12/judy-rodgers/

  8. Alexandra Dawson says

    This looks delicious, love that it’s vegan without butter! I think this would be good with lavender in place of the rosemary, maybe even coconut oil instead of olive oil, and maybe some honey? I would love to try this recipe!

  9. says

    Recreating family recipes is one of the best parts of being able to cook and bake, methinks. The smell alone can bring back so many great memories. I love the herbal infusion to this shortbread!! So lovely.

  10. says

    What a beautiful tribute, Kate – and how fun to try to re-create the recipe, or at least to get as close as you can. Food memories are so special. I think you’re right – she would surely approve of this one!

  11. says

    It’s funny how the holidays bring out celebratory moods as well as memories, or thoughts, about those who are not with us any longer.

    Such a beautiful and simple recipe, Plus, I love how your recipe calls for olive oil, in a shortbread recipe! Totally genius!

  12. says

    I just made the recipe according to your instructions*, and found the shortbread overbearingly sweet. Have you tried making it with less sugar, or replacing some of the sugar with flour? I am unsure of the best method of keeping the texture of the shortbread the same while reducing the sweetness, and hoped you might know a way. Thanks for your help!

    *Though I added about 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts and topped the shortbread with flaky sea salt, which I would recommend.

    • says

      Hi! I’m sorry to hear that you found the shortbread too sweet. I don’t love super sweet things but it tasted just right to me. Did you use powdered sugar as directed, or regular sugar? I think you could reduce the amount of sugar by up to one half or so without adding more flour. I saw shortbread recipes with similar amounts of flour and widely varying amounts of sugar. Your pine nut and sea salt idea sounds great, by the way!

  13. bonnie says

    This sounds delicious. but, the part about the lemons is unclear to me. Do you mean the zest of two lemons? (doesn’t seem like the juice would work in shortbread)

  14. Mark says

    I love the look of these cookies, and will make them this afternoon.

    But, I started out on a tablet, and as I scrolled down the page I always got a Geico ad that took over the page and couldn’t be closed. So I would have to reload the page and start over.

    Finally, I decided that I would just print it instead. Well, 2 or 3 attempts at that didn’t work either, with either the first page, the last page or just the picture printing.

    Finally had to switch to my laptop to get it.

  15. says

    Hi Kate

    This is a brilliant recipe. A tiny bit sweet but I did use a regular unrefined sugar so next time I’ll follow the instructions and used powdered (icing) sugar!, the salt balance is fab.
    I can also vouch for the 101 Chocolate Olive Oil cake…. Thanks for all the great ideas.

    • says

      Thanks, Cate! I’m glad you enjoyed it. One cup of regular sugar yields 1.5 cups powdered sugar, so it makes sense that your cookies tasted a little too sweet. If you want to use regular sugar again, you could probably get by with 1 cup.

  16. JM says

    I really wanted to love this recipe – and I followed it exactly – but the cookies are just way too sweet. The salt is excellent, but the sugar kills it!

    :(

    • says

      Hey JM, I’m so sorry your cookies turned out too sweet. I know you said that you followed the recipe to a T, but did you by chance use regular granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar?

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