Cookie

The World's Best Shortbread Is No Longer Sold—but We Got the Recipe

And now we can make them at home.

May 23, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist & Prop Stylist: Sarah Jampel.

Whenever we have guests at the Food52 office for a meeting, we like to give them a warm welcome with freshly made coffee, some flowers, and a (sometimes wobbly) vintage chair to sit on.

For special guests, though, our power move is to pick up baked goods from some of our favorite shops in the city. We get kouign amann from Chanson when we’re in the mood for a single show-stopper, and chocolate chip cookies from Seven Grams, when we’re going for simple and confident.

When it’s time to go all out, we stop at Bien Cuit and order pretty much everything. They make the crispiest, yeastiest, most adorable mini baguettes, which we serve with salted butter and jam. We also love their gluten free chocolate scones and golden-sheathed croissants, and we always—always—get a few of their sugar-crusted shortbread, which are part cookie, part laminated pastry: buttery, salty, and though pebbled with sugar, not too sweet. In truth, we’ve been known to steer our very important guests away from the shortbread—in the direction of the other tasty bits— just so we get to eat them post meeting.

This shortbread scheme had been going on for a few years, until last week, when everything changed. There, on the meeting table sat our VIP pastry spread, sans our beloved shortbread. My heart stopped. Where were they? Had they run out? Had they been forgotten?

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Top Comment:
“Thank you for obtaining the recipe and ‘Merci beaucoup!’ To Bien Cuit for sharing their recipe!”
— Sandy
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The news was worse still: Bien Cuit, we learned, had stopped making them.

There was only one solution: I had to get the recipe. And as a self-serving writer hoping to get others to support her cause, I tweeted at Bien Cuit and begged them to bring the shortbread back. On Twitter, Bien Cuit held firm, but they did offer to share the recipe.

When I received it, I was skeptical. So much can go awry when scaling down a recipe from a bakery-sized batch. Their recipe called for more than a pound of butter and flour; a calculator was called in. I halved the recipe and made the dough, which has a few odd but necessary twists. First, instead of rolling out the dough, you spread it on a parchment lined baking sheet—just a good, smooth layer. Next you chill it overnight. And last, you bake it at a low temperature—300°F—for an hour and 15 minutes! Sure that I’d have a tray of burned shortbread, I checked it after 30 minutes. It was still the color of butter. As promised, the full baking time was required.

Not only was the long baking time unusual yet effective, but I found that spreading the dough in the pan and cutting the shortbread after baking (techniques clearly geared toward the efficiency of a bakery) speeds up the technique and creates an uber flaky layered dough that’s crisp enough to shatter and delicate inside. My kids, who generally scoff at any cookie lacking chocolate chips, lit up when they ate them.

Bien Cuit shortbread may no longer headline our VIP guest spreads, but it will live on happily in my home. And hopefully yours, too.

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  • amazinc
    amazinc
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Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.

36 Comments

amazinc June 7, 2019
Chris C. I think the recipe you're looking for is a Cook's Illustrated recipe from 2001. I have the recipe if you'd like me to send it to you via e-mail. It's called "Buttery Shortbread" and is on their web site, if you're a subscribing member.
 
Chris C. June 6, 2019
Years ago there was an article in Cooks Illustrated about this deliciousness, with accompanying recipe that also resulted in amazing shortbread. I lost the article and the recipe long ago - sure wish I could find it again! I'll have to try this one to see how they compare, but as I recall, the CI recipe also called for just patting the dough into a baking sheet. And there were warnings about keeping the ingredients cool.
 
Sandy June 3, 2019
Yay!!! I have tried numerous shortbread recipes in a quest to find one as buttery tasting as Walker’s - my search is over. These are delish! Thank you for obtaining the recipe and ‘Merci beaucoup!’ To Bien Cuit for sharing their recipe!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. June 3, 2019
Yay, indeed! Thanks for your comment!
 
BeverlyW May 27, 2019
I just made these amazing delicious cookies - thank you! I followed the recipe, smooshed out the dough into a 9x13 pan lined with parchment paper and refrigerated overnight. Lots of fork pricks before baking for an hour. Did as others and sprinkled Demerara sugar on top immediately after pulling from the oven. After resting five minutes, I cut into 36 bars - yum!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 31, 2019
Thanks so much for making them, Beverly!
 
Sugartoast May 27, 2019
Made a batch this weekend, this is the real deal. Used unsalted Kerrygold, measured by weight, rested overnight, and baked low and slow. Thought it might need more salt when I was pulling the ingredients together but it’s perfect. Thank you, thank you!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 31, 2019
Really glad they turned out well for you, too!
 
amazinc May 26, 2019
+1 on the Oxo scale. Been using mine now for about 8 years and have never looked back. King Arthur has a download-able weight/measurement conversion on their web site...Free!! Both items are perfect for the home cook.
 
cocoabrioche May 26, 2019
Really wish you'd share the pound of butter recipe. I generally double every cooking recipe: I'm a pig, with friends! Plus I bake large quantities for fundraisers.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 31, 2019
I simply halved the recipe to get to the measurements I called for. So if you double the recipe, you'll have the original recipe proportions -- and a nice large batch!
 
Rosemary May 26, 2019
Recipe sounds great.
Could you give us accurate Measurements in cups and teaspoons?
Thanks
 
Naina B. May 26, 2019
I don't think accuracy in cups and teaspoons exists. Accuracy in baking has to be by weight. Invest in a good scale, you won't look back!
 
Smaug May 27, 2019
For the powdered ingredients (flour and conf. sugar) you need to know how the author uses the cups to get an accurate conversion; unfortunately internet recipes rarely say. This recipe isn't that critical on those amounts; you should be able to get good results from the King Arthur's conversions listed in a comment below.
 
Smaug May 27, 2019
By the way, the necessity for precision in baking is often overstated, particularly for a home baker- bakeries need to be more consistent for marketing and financial reasons; fortunately for them precision is easier with larger quantities and dependable turnover of ingredients. Apart from the potential inaccuracies in using weights- and they do exist- there are other variables. For instance, in this simple recipe, the flour is not specified. AP flour can vary by several percentage points in the protein content, and it does not specify bleached or unbleached. The butter is also not specified, so you don't know the percentages of fat, water and milk solids, all of which will have noticeable effect on the end product. Small quantities, such as salt, are really more accurately measured by volume- scales round things off, and in small quantities can matter. No eggs in this, but they're generally a big variable- bakeries may measure yolks and whites by volume accurately, but this is generally not practical with home-sized quantities. There's variation in confectioners' sugars, too. Despite all of this, a recipe like this will come out just fine anywhere in the normal range of variation on these things.
 
Carey May 29, 2019
Rosemary. Bakers work with weight. One person's cup of flour will weigh differently than another but a kilo is a kilo. Digital kitchen scales are inexpensive and and invaluable. Most weigh in pounds and. Grams.
 
Jason May 24, 2019
Diamond Crystal, or Mortons?
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 24, 2019
Diamond Crystal
 
Lisa H. May 30, 2019
After not finding Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt anywhere in my city, I called Diamond Crystal’s customer service 800# today. I was told currently this product is only available online through their website, or through Amazon.
 
Jason May 30, 2019
Use half the amount specified if you substitute Mortons Kosher salt.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 31, 2019
Thanks, Jason -- good tip. And you can definitely use other salts, but you'll need to experiment.
 
Lisa H. June 4, 2019
Surprise, surprise! I found & bought Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt at my local Vons supermarket.
 
witloof May 23, 2019
YAHOO!!!! Thank you for weight measurements!!! Going to make this ASAP.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 24, 2019
Enjoy!
 
Kehaulani K. May 23, 2019
Aloha. Can you convert to us measurements. Mahalo

 
witloof May 23, 2019
Once you start using a kitchen scale for baking you will wonder how you lived without one. OXO makes a great one.
 
Christine C. May 23, 2019
302 gms =1 1/4 C butter
93 gms= 3/4 C powder sugar
3gms= 1/2 t salt
302 gms = 2.2 C flour
1/8 C sugar = same
according to Alexa
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 24, 2019
Thank you for adding this!
 
Brian May 24, 2019
I looked up the conversation on Google for those amounts and they say different ???? Now I'm scared to do either as I don't want them to be off. It says 302 grams is 1 1/2 cups 93 grams is 1/2 cup 3 grams is 1/2 tsp 302 grams is 1 1/2 cups and 1/8 of a cup is 2 Tbs. That Can be a big difference when Baking
 
cookbookchick May 24, 2019
Time to invest in a kitchen scale! You won’t be sorry.
 
Caroline S. May 26, 2019
Try it. It's the technique that makes the difference. The overnight chilling is the baker's secret.
 
tia May 26, 2019
I went to King Arthur Flour's website. They have a list of ingredient conversion and I trust them, so here's what they say:
302 grams butter = 1 1/3 cup (2 2/3 sticks)
93 grams unsifted confectioner's sugar = .8 cups (a bit more than 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon)
3.5 grams diamond crystal salt = 1 tsp on my kitchen scale (Canning salt, which has a very similar texture to table salt, comes out to 1/2 tsp)
302 grams flour = 2 1/2 cups (I'm betting this is sifted but I'm not sure)
(I'm not converting the raw sugar since it's just sprinkled on top)

I hope this helps!
 
tia May 26, 2019
I should also point out that when I made it, I got myself mixed up on how much butter it called for and accidentally only put in 1 cup. It came out fine.

Baking calls for precision, but we're not doing lab-level chemistry here. You have some leeway.
 
Smaug May 27, 2019
One ounce is (approximately) 28g., 1g. is app. .035 oz. So 203g. would be 7oz., 93 g. would be 3 1/4 oz., 3.5g. would be .12 oz (or 1/8).
 
Emma L. May 23, 2019
Best. Shortbread. Ever.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 31, 2019
:)