Shortbread is one of my favorite cookies to keep around the kitchen for snacking. It’s easy to make shortbread and the cookies tend to have a much longer shelf life than your average drop cookie, so one batch can last for days – even if you’re just treating yourself and not baking them for a crowd. A basic shortbread is made primarily of butter and flour, with just the right amount of sugar added to highlight the flavor of the butter, but the recipe is so simple that it allows you to make all kinds of variations with different ingredients.
This Vanilla Bean Cornmeal Shortbread is perfect for summer baking. The buttery bar cookies have a crumbly texture and deliver a burst of vanilla flavor with just the right touch of sweetness. They can be eaten on their own or paired with whipped cream and fresh berries for a more dressed up option.
The dough for the shortbread comes together very quickly once your ingredients have been brought to room temperature. It adds a generous amount of cornmeal and vanilla bean to a basic shortbread dough. I used half a vanilla bean, sliced in half and scraped, but you can also use vanilla bean paste to introduce plenty of vanilla flavor.
The dough is easy to work with and it could be shaped into a log to produce slice-and-bake round shortbread cookies, although I prefer to press it into a square baking pan and turn it into bars. I love the shape of bars of shortbread (since some of my favorite shortbreads come in bar form) and it saves a bit of time to bake up bars, rather than individual cookies. To get neat bars, score the dough before baking and then cut along those same lines while the shortbread is still hot from the oven. By cutting the cookies while the dough is hot, you will avoid cracking the shortbread and will end up with neat bars. The corners will be lightly browned but the bars will otherwise be uniform in color and texture. Let them cool before serving and store the leftovers in an airtight container!
Vanilla Bean Cornmeal Shortbread
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal (yellow)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste or 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 large egg, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper and lightly grease.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in flour, cornmeal, salt, vanilla bean (or vanilla bean paste) and egg until dough comes together. Transfer dough to prepared pan and press into an even layer.
Score dough into rectangles (9×4) using a sharp knife.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until shortbread is golden on the outer edge of the pan. Allow shortbread to cool for 5 minutes, then use a sharp knife to cut along the score lines (lines may have faded during baking). Allow bars to cool completely before removing from pan and breaking into individual cookies.
Makes 36 bars