Already Excellent Olive Oil Shortbread Finds 3 New Ways to Show Off

Thanks to a few nutty, chocolatey, fruity riffs.

October 16, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Lauren LaPenna. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson.

We've teamed up with La Tourangelle—makers of artisan oils, salad dressings, and cooking sprays—to show you all the wonderful ways you can use their specialty oils (think: roasted walnut oil, toasted sesame oil, and more) at home.

If ever there were a cookie that epitomized the phrase, “The sum is greater than the parts,” it would be a classic shortbread. In its most pared-down iteration, shortbread is a mixture of fat (most often butter), flour, and sugar. Sure, it’s simple, but after a short blast in the oven it becomes crisp at first bite—then melt-in-your-mouth toasted sweet and buttery bliss.

While butter shortbread is undeniably delightful, Deb Perelman’s olive oil-based shortbread recently won me over. Hers starts with a simple dough made with flour, powdered sugar, turbinado sugar, and salt. But then, instead of softened butter, she works in olive oil, along with a healthy dose of chocolate and fresh rosemary. Her shortbread is beautifully short (as in, crumbly but in a good way), deeply flavored by the fruity olive oil, and complete with exceedingly crisp, sugary edges—a revelation.

As it turns out, the shortness of Deb’s shortbread makes a whole lot of sense. We know that overworking dough creates gluten and leads to tough cookies. But according to Shirley O. Corriher in BakeWise, “Fats grease flour proteins and prevent their joining to form gluten. Oil is much better at greasing the flour proteins than either butter or shortening.”

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Top Comment:
“So many appealing options here! I'm so looking forward to experimenting with these. ;o)”
— AntoniaJames

So using oil—not butter—is actually advantageous in shortbread. With oil it’s easier to get a short, tender cookie because the oil covers the flour proteins better. (Just don’t be alarmed if your dough looks a bit dry at first—the oil is a little harder to work in.)

What’s more, with Deb’s recipe, you need not rest the dough before rolling it out; it’s not too soft, like a butter dough would be. And since we didn’t build up the gluten, we don’t have to worry about letting it rest and relax. Basically, oil makes the whole shortbread process that much easier.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Lauren LaPenna. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson.

When it comes to the world of cooking oils, there’s far more to choose from than just olive. So I’ve been experimenting with adding nut and seed oils, plus mix-ins, to Deb’s shortbread recipe. Here are three of my favorite combos:

Toasted Sesame Oil + Halva

For my first riff, I swapped in toasted sesame oil for the olive oil, using the same amount the recipe calls for. I also removed the rosemary and threw in 1/2 cup of crumbled halva, a candy made from sesame paste; I kept the chocolate chunks. The result was a rich shortbread that had varying textures and a wonderful nutty flavor. The toasted sesame oil gave the whole thing a slightly savory edge that offset the sweetness of the halva but still tasted sesame-forward.

Roasted Pistachio Oil + Sour Cherries

Next up: a pistachio and sour cherry shortbread. Here, I used roasted pistachio oil instead of olive oil (again, a 1:1 swap), and tossed in 1/2 cup each of sour cherries and chopped pistachios in place of the chocolate and rosemary. As if that weren’t luxurious enough, I drizzled the whole mess in some white chocolate.

Pistachio’s delicate flavor is notoriously difficult to infuse into baked goods; it gets lost easily. Roasted pistachio oil solves that problem. Every bite is laced with the subtle flavor of pistachio, complemented by the tart zing of chewy sour cherries, and balanced by the creamy sweetness of white chocolate. These pretty little cookies would make a lovely addition to a holiday dessert plate.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Lauren LaPenna. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson.

Roasted Walnut Oil + Coffee

Roasted walnut oil’s warm, fragrant flavors are lovely in this shortbread, with 1 tablespoon ground coffee, 1 cup of chopped walnuts, and brown sugar; swap the powdered sugar for 1/2 cup brown sugar plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch. If you wanted to (and why wouldn’t you?), you could top these with a simple maple glaze made from 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 cup maple syrup, and a splash of milk.

Bonus ideas: Try toasted pumpkin seed oil shortbread with toffee bits and pumpkin seeds (just in time for fall). Or maybe roasted almond oil shortbread with marzipan and chocolate? Roasted peanut oil with chopped dates and flaky salt would be especially lovely. The shortbread will always be short, but the list of ways to riff on it gets longer and longer.

What’s your favorite shortbread recipe? Tell us in the comments!

In partnership with La Tourangelle, we're sharing everything you need to know about using specialty oils—from delicate roasted pistachio oil to aromatic roasted pistachio oil—at home. Head to the La Tourangelle site to stock up your own kitchen with their specialty oils, and don't forget to check out their lineup of organic salad dressings and premium artisan spray oils while you're at it.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • thegrumpygourmet
  • BakerGirl
  • Nancy
  • AntoniaJames
Writer. Baker. Sticky bun maker.


thegrumpygourmet December 23, 2020
My first go was whole pine nuts in place of rosemary/chocolate...all olive oil, a bit of Maldon salt on top as well as the turbinado sugar--it was good, but better the second time with the nuts crushed a bit and a milder olive oil. Next I tried 1/2 walnut oil and 1/2 olive, with crushed walnuts and swapped out 1/4 cup of the flour with semolina---these are really good! I just got hold of almond oil and hazelnut too---can't wait to get busy!
BakerGirl October 23, 2020
These look wonderful! Do you use unsweetened dried sour cherries?
Nancy October 19, 2020
Just to say I've been making olive-oil shortbread for about 15 years and it's great.
It usually disappears at dinner where it's served and/or goes home for breakfast the next day.
Your chocolate and pistachio versions sound good and worth trying.
AntoniaJames October 16, 2020
So many appealing options here! I'm so looking forward to experimenting with these. ;o)