Make ahead ready, slice and bake or cut out cookies, these Bourbon Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies are easy to make and a joy to give! This shortbread cookie recipe is vegetarian, easily dairy free or vegan.
This post was updated on 12/20 featuring new recipe adaptations and photography. The original recipe remains unchanged.
The Ease of Shortbread
Butter. Flour. Sugar. These are the classic ingredients of shortbread, making it one of the easiest cookies to pull together for the holidays, yes, but for anytime of year!
The sky is the limit for flavor inclusions like extracts, zest, seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate that make shortbread cookies special and so versatile. For these shortbread cookies, I include two ingredients that are like peas and carrots: vanilla and bourbon.
The bourbon is subtle in this bourbon cookie recipe, so if you’re looking for a heavy presence of it, this isn’t your cookie. Rather, its bourbon’s caramel notes that complement and highlight the vanilla.
Make Ahead Ready
One of the best things about shortbread is that it’s make ahead ready and has a long shelf life. Perfect for holiday prep and for gifting to friends and family near and far.
These vanilla bean cookies can be made months in advance and hang out in the freezer until you’re ready to slice and bake. Or, they’ll last weeks packaged, ready to be enjoyed by your gift recipient.
How to Make Bourbon Vanilla Bean Shortbread
For this recipe, you’ll need to plan ahead. Although shortbread is easy to make, the flavor improves with a little time to rest, and also, these cookies need to be adequately chilled before and after shaping and/or cutting.
There are two ways to approach this recipe: a. you can roll the dough into a log and slice the cookies or b. roll the dough to 1/4″ thick and use your favorite cookie cutters to cut the dough. Since this shortbread cookie recipe makes a big batch, I often divide the dough in half and do one of each! Here’s how to make these fragrant vanilla shortbread cookies (see recipe card below for full details):
- First, beat the sugar and butter in a stand mixer.
- Second, pour in the bourbon, vanilla extract and scrape in the vanilla beans.
- Third, add the flour and pulse until no white streaks from flour remain.
- Next, roll the dough into a log and/or roll into a disk and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to three days. The dough can then be frozen for longer storage.
- Last, slice or cut, rest and bake.
Resting the dough in the fridge after slicing/cutting but prior to baking is important so that the cookies hold their shape. Don’t rush or skip this step! It’s essential.
High Quality Ingredients
Simple and modest, but big on flavor. Don’t skimp on the butter, here. Like the vanilla and bourbon, butter is a main component which brings out the best in this cookie. The flavors completely play off one another. Look for high quality, organic butter for best flavor.
Vanilla extract and beans can be purchased at your well stocked grocery. Look for organic vanilla extract and beans and if you can find them, fair trade. You can use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla beans, in this recipe, but it can be sometimes difficult to find locally. I usually purchase online when needed.
On a recent trip to Costco, I found their brand of organic vanilla beans, plump and pliable, at a very good price.
A Few Recipe Notes
- An oven thermometer is helpful in knowing the temperature of your oven for best baking outcome.
- Freezer Friendly? Yes Please! This cookie dough can be frozen for up to two months! Simply thaw in the fridge overnight then slice/cut and bake the next day.
- Vegan Shortbread? Yes Please! Makers on Instagram have been making these vegan, so I tested this recipe using Earth Balance buttery sticks, and it works beautifully! Simply reduce the salt, and baking time (see recipe notes).
- Bourbon Update (12/20): Makers have been requesting more bourbon flavor in this bourbon cookie recipe, so I tested the original recipe with a few tweaks. See modifications in recipe notes. The bourbon flavor is still subtle, but slightly more apparent.
- Cookie Cutters: I love cutting these cookies into stars for the holiday season, but they’re pretty cut into hearts or whatever shape you like. I use these heart cookie cutters and star cookie cutters.
More Shortbread Cookie Recipes to Love
- Hazelnut Shortbread with Salted Ganache Sandwich Cookies
- Dark Chocolate Cocoa Nib Shortbread Cookies
- Vegan Dark Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
- Cocoa Nib Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Bourbon Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies
- 1 1/2 C (346g) or 3 Sticks Unsalted Butter, room temperature (see notes to make these dairy free / vegan)*
- 1/2 C (124g) Cane Sugar
- 1/2 C (68g) Confectioners Sugar
- 1/4 tsp Sea Salt
- 1 TBS Vanilla Extract **
- 2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste or 1 Vanilla Bean Scraped***
- 2 1/2 TBS Bourbon
- 3 1/2 C (470g) Unbleached All Purpose Flour
- 1 Egg White (optional)
- 3-4 TBS Raw Sugar or Demamara Sugar (optional)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter, cane and confectioners sugar, sea salt and vanilla bean paste or vanilla beans. Mix on medium for about 2 minutes or until smooth (not fluffy), stopping to scrape bowl at least once. Add the bourbon and vanilla extract and mix again on medium for about 30 seconds, or until incorporated. Scrape down bowl. Add the flour all at once, pulse to start, then mix on medium until the dough forms somewhat of a ball on the paddle and has pulled away from sides of the bowl.
To Shape, Cut and Rest:
- For Slice and Bake: On a floured work surface, dump out dough, knead it a few times until a mass forms and divide in half. Shape each clump into a log, 2" (5cm) thick, gently rolling and adding flour as needed so it wont stick to you or the work surface. If the log becomes hollow, condition the dough by pinching it closed and reroll into a log. If the hollow persists, you can rest the dough for 15 minutes in the fridge, knead it a few times and beat it with a pin (truly!) until flat enough to roll. Wrap each log in parchment paper or plastic wrap. Carefully place in refrigerator on a flat surface keeping it as straight as possible. for at least two hours or up to two days. For Cut Out Cookies: On a floured work surface, dump out the dough, knead it a few times until a mass forms and divide it in half. Shape the dough into 2, 1/2" disks, wrap snugly and refrigerate for two hours or up to two days.
- To Freeze: At this point the dough (log or cookie dough) can be frozen for up to two months. Be sure to double wrap the logs and dough to prevent freezer burn.Thaw overnight in the fridge then proceed.
To Cut and Pan:
- Optional But Recommended for the Logs: Remove the log(s) from the refrigerator, unwrap, and using a pastry brush, brush a thin layer of egg white all over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle the log with raw sugar, rolling it as needed to cover the surface area of the log.
- Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. For the Log, using a serrated knife, firmly cut the cookies 1/2" (1 1/4cm) thick. Place on sheet pan with at least 1" (2 1/2 cm) between cookies. For the Cut Outs, set at room temperature for about 30 minutes to make rolling easier. Flour your work surface, pin and dough. Roll the dough to 1/4" (6mm) thick and cut the cookies, reflouring as needed to prevent sticking. If the dough starts cracking, gather what you've rolled, knead it a few times and beat it with the pin to condition it. Shape into a rough disc, reroll and cut. Gather the scraps and reroll and cut as needed. Space cookies at least 1" apart on the sheet pan. Place the cookies in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before baking (do not skip this step or the cookies will spread).
- Preheat the oven while the cookies rest in the refrigerator For 1/2" cookies, preheat and bake the cookies at 350F (180C) for 25-27 minutes OR until they begin to turn golden.For 1/4" cookies, preheat and bake at 325F (160C) for 23-26 minutes OR until they begin to turn golden. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely. They'll become crisp as they cool.
- Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to two weeks.
- use 3 Buttery Sticks of Earth Balance buttery sticks instead of dairy butter
- omit the salt and add a pinch instead
- omit the egg wash and sprinkling of sugar
- Reduce the bake time to:
- for 1/2" cookies bake @ 350F for 20-24 minutes.
- for 1/4" cookies bake @325F for 19-23 minutes.