An Illustrated Guide to French Laundry Shortbread

This is a hard recipe. It is incredibly simple but also probably the most light-handed recipe I’ve ever made. The problem is it’s simplicity and delicacy, which is also what makes the end result so amazing.

Behold: Thomas Keller‘s French Laundry Shortbread. If you’d just like to full recipe, go to Chef’s Blade (if you have a baking scale) or Epicurious (if you don’t). Or you can follow along below…

An aside: thanks to the Mr. for allowing me to spend his Williams-Sonoma gift card to buy a baking scale. Which I use all the time!

Ingredients

To start, measure out:

  • 8 oz. all purpose flour
  • 2 3/4 oz.  caster sugar
  • 5 1/2 oz. ROOM TEMP unsalted butter, chopped into pieces

You’ll also need a vanilla pod*.

THAT’S IT. 4 ingredients, seriously. You will also want some coarse see salt to add that special magical kick. So I guess 5 ingredients.

Sift

First you’ll want to pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Then dump the flour and sugar into a sifter of some sort and shake. One pass works great to make a fluffy base.

Vanilla Bean

Take out that ole vanilla bean and slice through one side of it just enough to expose the seedy center. Use the back of your knife to scrap out the black seeds. Add the insides to the flour/sugar mixture.

Mix

Here comes the tricky part: add the butter. You’ll want to massage it in, “rub the flour into the butter until incorporated” says Chef’s Blade. But don’t over do it! It should make some loose ball-y clumps. Then you have the joy of trying to make some sort of a ball out of it in the bowl. I’ve had the most success pressing it together then adding the remainder, pressed clump by pressed clump down on a lightly floured surface.

The Chef’s Blade recipe says to not overwork the dough, but that’s a tough call. How do you know it’s overworked? It’s almost impossible to make a cohesive ball out of this stuff so have patience and don’t be afraid to keep shaping and pressing it together.

Once you get it all out on that floured surface, roll it out. Using a heavy rolling pin, it definitely starts to come together even more. So keep up with that patience. When you get to a half-inch thick, stop. I used my blunt knife edge to press together the ragged edges.

Cut

Cut into longish rectangles and gently place on a baking sheet using a spatula. Sparingly sprinkle some coarse sea salt onto the tops. Put into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. I like mine toasty golden, so I flip the pan around and bake for another 10 minutes.

Done

We brought these to a family Thanksgiving and they turned out great! I packed the perfect cookies on the bottom so pay no attention to the few wonky ones on top in this pic. I’ll have to purchase more vanilla beans and try, try, try again but man, this a simple recipe that pays off in spades.

*PRO TIP: If you live in San Francisco’s Mission district, the people that opened the newish ice cream shop Xanath Ice Cream are also heavy into vanilla and saffron import/export. They’ve been handing out whole vanilla bean pods as a promotion for the ice cream shop. If you see them handing something out in front of the store at 20th and Valencia, STOP AND TAKE IT. You will not be sorry. And presto, you automatically have all ingredients for this recipe!

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