13 May 2009


SHORTBREAD : I have always liked butter…. but in small quantities – feeling that too much of a good thing overwhelms the pleasures of the palate. Unfortunately, when I was a little girl my grandfather did not share these sentiments, and when asked to make us sandwiches for tea, he was prone to far more generous layers of butter, than bread & cucumber combined. There was then a mad dash to remove 90% of the golden spread & hide it in a napkin, before he returned to check that everything was ok!

All this being said, there is one area of baking where the less is more butter philosophy is brought into question – this being sablé (shortbread) cookie making. Butter is the defining building block, the foundation of this biscuit, without which you would be left with smiply flour & sugar. It’s quality is therefore of the utmost importance and once you have tasted these cookies, home made with fresh butter, you understand why the storebought variety always seems to have this slightly unpleasant aftertaste … it’s the butter.

It reminds me of the final scene in the movie ‘Mostly Martha’, where Martha (a famous Hamburg Chef) tastes the lemon tart her psychiatrist has prepared for her, using her recipe.

  • some thing’s not right… she says
  • how can that be? I followed your instructions to the letter?… he replies
  • you heated the oven to exactly 210°?
  • yes
  • you didn’t over knead the pastry?
  • no
  • and the sugar, did you use Belgian sugar?
  • Do you mean to say that you can tell what kind of sugar I used?
  • No, of course not, but I can tell what kind you DIDN’T use!

This is my second dedication to the ‘Comme un Chef cookbook – a delectable recipe for Sablés Viennois (Viennese Shortbread), which I can only think of improving by dipping one end in sinful dark chocolate that melts ever so slowly on your tongue. Otherwise they PERFECT.

While the recipe calls for a 9mm nozzle (douille), I used an 8m as that is what I had on hand. Though in future I would follow the original  instructions, as a larger nozzle makes the cookie formation far easier. You will also find that as you work with the piping bag and the dough warms, the cookies are easier to form.


  • 200gr unsalted butter
  • 75gr icing sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean pod
  • 1 egg white
  • 225gr white all-purpose flour
  1. Let the butter naturally come to room temperature (Guide to Butter & Baking)
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F convection heat
  3. Beat the butter until it becomes white
  4. Add sugar, salt, vanilla* and egg white
  5. Beat for 30 seconds! This is important – do not over beat or the mixture will start to separate
  6. Gently mix in the flour – chef’s tip was NOT to over mix, you just want the flour to be evenly combined.
  7. Prepare the pasty bag and then add heaping spoon-fulls of dough into the bottom of the bag (avoiding air pockets), until all the dough is used.
  8. Next, on a lined baking sheet, pipe out the cookies (see photo), leaving 2cm /1 inch in between each cookie
  9. Bake for 12 minutes or until just golden.
  10. Leave to cool on a cooling rack

*Take 1/2 a vanilla bean pod, slice it lengthwise & remove the inside by scrapping with a teaspoon


  1. Giselle Says:

    Oh, I do have a recipe for “salted” shortbread, for you, if you are interested: it is a great success amongst us (your parents included). Here it goes:

    Stilton Shortbread
    ¾ cup (150g) butter (room temperature)
    1 Tbsp sugar
    ½ tsp salt
    2 cups flour
    1 cup (250g) blue cheese (English Stilton, St. Agur, gorgonzola)

    Mix butter, sugar and salt until creamy.
    Mix cheese with flour then blend it with other ingredients (should not be dry).
    Form dough into two “logs”; cover completely with plastic wrap and chill overnight (or at least 4 hours).
    Logs should be about 1 ½ inches diameter.
    Cut cookies from log about ¼ inch to ½ inch and bake @ 320 F convection for approximately 13 minutes or until the edges brown a little.
    For rosemary shortbread – substitute the 1 cup of blue cheese for swiss/Gruyère grated cheese + about 1 ½ tsp rosemary
    For bacon cookies – substitute blue cheese for 100g streaky bacon, cut very fine and fried on a non sticking pan (or bacon bits) + grated cheese (bacon + cheese = 1 cup)

    • Giselle : Hi, i was just thinking of you yesterday and wondered how you and Marco were doing? Thank you for this wonderful recipe – what a great idea. I am unfortunatley unable to eat blue cheese, but Olivier loves it and otherwise I will be sure to make your rosemary shortbreads, they sounds delicious. Hope to see you both this summer in Provence. xxx

      • Giselle Says:

        We are doing great, Erika!!! Marco re-starts working for Gienow next week and I hope to begin volunteering at the Humane Society soon (my main goal is to photograph and write bios of the cats, dogs, bunnies, birds … that are there, for adoption). We had an amazing time in Uzès, for 2 weeks (I know … too short) and are now trying to get back into reality. Who knows … we might go back to Provence sooner than we thought!
        Your mom has something from me to you, whenever you get down there again.
        Say hi to Olivier! XOXO

  2. heather Says:

    I’ve had a similar recipe for Viennese shortbread bookmarked for a while now. These look so great, I think I’ll make it this weekend!



  3. Rosa Says:

    These look and sound fabulous! I love the idea of using a vanilla pod instead of the extract. Will have to try it next time. 🙂

    • Rosa : I have made these cookies using vanilla extract, vanilla paste & the pure vanilla bean (pod) – and the latter really is the best. It makes all the difference to the taste of the shortbreads 🙂

  4. Marjorie Says:

    I do like this recipe and it is because you have not drowned it with icing sugar which most shortbread recipes seem to do. They end up being overly sweet and you do not enjoy the cookie taste. Also like the vanilla pod idea and because of you I have been using this instead of extract in my recipes – much more intense taste without being overpowering. Thanks for the tip on the nozzle as well. M x

  5. Rosa Says:

    Thanks for the reply!!

  6. happygrub Says:

    Hi Erika,

    Its been such a long time! Your cookies look so pretty!! How have you been??

    I’m well.. Expecting our first little one in September and I just baked a recipe which I posted about close to 2 years ago. I was reading the old comments and chanced upon the very first comment that you made on my blog. I missed you!

    Take care
    Luv, farhan

    • Hi Farhan,
      So nice to hear from you, I too have missed our correspondence 🙂 I am pleased to hear you are well and what wonderful news that you are expecting a baby. Let me know if you have certain food cravings and we will come up with some new recipes! Here all is fine, I have been very busy with a course I am taking and after the exams at the beginning of June, I will be back to my weekly blogging. Plus have a blog surprise coming up!!!

      Pls keep in touch 🙂

  7. happygrub Says:

    OK I just read the comment I wrote and I realized the sentence i wrote “expecting our first one in september and I just baked a recipe..” were two completely unrelated things! Haha.. I should have put a “By the way I just baked a recipe..” instead of the “and”. haha!

    Cheers, Farhan

  8. I haven’t seen these since I was a kid eating these in Belgium! They bring back great memories but I am not sure if I would wolf down as many as I used to now that I know how much butter is actually in them 🙂

    • Hi Niall,
      Thanks for your note. I love food that brings back childhood memories, there is such comfort in that.
      There are certain recipes where reducing the butter would simply ruin the cookies and for these Viennese shortbreads that is the case. Best just not to count the calories and have them as a treat! Erika

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