Blue Bottle at Fifteen: Our Favorite Shortbread
A recipe and a remembrance
When Caitlin Freeman, founding pastry chef at Blue Bottle, wanted a not-so-sweet cookie to accompany our coffee, her best friend Vanessa’s mother’s shortbread came to mind.
When Caitlin was growing up, she’d watch Deborah Dunsworth Quinn make batch after batch of the buttery, flaky cookies. So when Deborah tragically passed away in 2007, her three daughters anchored themselves by following the shortbread recipe—mixing butter, sugar, and flour together, then pressing the dough into well-seasoned clay molds. The familiar sweet scent that had wafted into their memories since childhood became a salve for them, and the hundreds of shortbreads were shared with family and friends.
Caitlin asked Vanessa Gates Mowell (then and now a treasured colleague at Blue Bottle) if she could use Deborah’s shortbread as a mainstay for the newly opened Mint Plaza cafe. Years later, with the additions of rosemary and olive oil, this cookie has remained an all-time favorite. Perhaps fans could sense there was more to this shortbread than pantry staples.
Rosemary Olive Oil Shortbread
Note: While this recipe is very simple to make, the dough requires a few hours to firm up in the refrigerator before baking.
1 cup (8 oz / 227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (4.1 oz / 115 g) powdered sugar, sifted
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary, or ½ teaspoon dried
2 cups (9.9 oz / 280 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on low speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. (If you don’t have an electric mixer, a wooden spoon works instead.) Add the sugar, salt, and rosemary, and mix until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the color lightens and the texture becomes fluffy and smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the flour, and mix just until the dough is uniform in texture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 1 minute more.
Gather the dough into a ball. Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on a flat surface. Transfer the dough to it, and cover with a second piece of plastic wrap. Flatten the dough to form a rectangle measuring 7 by 10 inches and about ½ inch thick. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 5 days.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350℉ (175℃). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the dough into small rectangles measuring 1 by 2 inches, and place the cookies on the lined baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake for 9 minutes, and then rotate the pan. Bake for 9 minutes more, or until the cookies are golden around the edges. Remove the pan from the oven, and immediately brush the tops of the cookies with olive oil. Place the pan on a cooling rack and let sit for at least 10 minutes before removing the cookies. Allow them to cool completely before serving.
Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
In Caitlin’s words, “This is an incredibly flexible recipe that's perfect for modifications. Add ⅓ cup toasted pine nuts... Or substitute 1 tablespoon coarsely ground coffee for the rosemary and add ¼ tablespoon of ground green cardamom. These are just a couple of ideas, and I encourage you to experiment and come up with your own variations.”
Recipe adapted from The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, by James Freeman, Caitlin Freeman, and Tara Duggan.