Shortbread, or its chocolate variation, are both delicious cookies for a grown-up palate that pair perfectly with port or sherry. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

There’s a whole lot of cookie baking going on right now.

Perhaps your family looks forward to the same cookie selection year after year: my mom could be counted on to produce Swedish ginger cookies called Pepparkakar, spritz cookies and a cookie called Starlight Mint Surprise, which was a national baking contest winner made with a basic sugar cookie dough in which was buried a chocolate mint disk, no longer manufactured.

There were others, and we looked forward to them. “Why, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without…” and fill in the blanks with the name of annual favorites.

These days cookie making here is down to a duller roar because even though I might like to, I simply can’t eat cookies like I used to, and neither can most of my friends, and I don’t have a big family to devour them all.

Still, I like to experiment with the occasional new recipe. I have a soft spot for shortbread and when I spotted this recipe in an old favorite cookbook, I thought, I ought to try making them. And when I saw that they could be turned into a chocolate version of themselves, I was hooked. Helen Witty authored “Fancy Pantry” and I spotted these shortbreads on my way to the Cranberry Cordial we talked about a couple weeks ago, and which next week, we will finish up in time for holiday sipping.

I suspect the kiddos are going to love the big sugar cookies with lurid icing, but shortbreads are grown-up cookies. A plateful would be delightful with that cordial I mentioned, or with a glass of tawney port or sherry. For a very elegant gift, in fact, a package of homemade shortbread and a bottle of sherry would please. So would the shortbread and good tea, loose or in bags.

I found a bag of chocolate espresso morsels and used those in the chocolate shortbread. Wow. Of course, pay attention to when in the day you eat these or you’ll find yourself wanting to call your friends at 2 a.m. to talk about how good they are.

Chocolate and wine served together is a bit controversial but some claim Merlot and chocolate together work well. Chocolate shortbreads with a bag of fine coffee under the tree is even better, especially if you use espresso morsels. Or wrap up a good quality cocoa powder or hot chocolate mix with the shortbread.

The recipes below are pretty straight forward.

Confectioners sugar often gets a little lumpy so running it through a sifter is a good idea. Also, sifting the flour and cornstarch together mixes them nicely. In the chocolate shortbread, by all means sift the chocolate with the flour and cornstarch.

Generally it isn’t necessary to grease pans you bake shortbread in, but I did line my pans with parchment paper (a gift of which, by the way, will delight the cook in your life.) If you cut them into fan shapes, know that the triangular tips of each piece are very fragile. Handle them carefully. You can also press the dough out into a free standing square on a parchment lined baking sheet to bake it and cut it into squares.


½ cup butter, at room temperature

½ cup confectioners sugar, sifted

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and line an 8-inch or 9-inch square or round pan with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and gradually add the confectioners sugar, beating until the mixture is fluffy.

Add the vanilla and beat to incorporate it.

Sift together the flour and cornstarch, and add them gradually to the butter and sugar mixture.

When the mixture in the bowl comes together loosely, looking a little like pie dough, distribute it over the bottom of the pan and press it in right to the edges making sure that the thickness is even.

Prick it all over with a fork, and press the fork tines onto the edge all around the pan.

Alternatively, press the dough into a half-inch thick square on a baking sheet, prick it all over with a fork, and cut into smaller squares slightly separated from one another.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, check it to see if it is firm all over but not browned. If it is still a little soft, reduce the oven to 300 and give it another five minutes or until it is firm to the touch.

Cool it slightly and while it is still warm, cut it, if it is round, into fan shapes, or any desired shape, then let it finish cooling.

Lift the individual pieces out of the pan to serve or put away for later.

Chocolate Shortbread

½ cup butter

½ cup confectioners sugar

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Follow the assembly instructions above but heat the oven to 300 degrees.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, test to see if they are firm, and if they are still soft, bake them additional time until the shortbread can’t be dented with a finger.

Avatar photo

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...