Vanilla-Almond Shortbread Cookies

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My first blog post centered around my dad’s love of chocolate, particularly brownies. While my whole family loves it when he makes brownies, I neglected to mention one thing: my mom doesn’t like chocolate all that much. She can take it or leave it. She doesn’t hate it. She just doesn’t love it. My parents have been happily married for 32 years, raised three daughters and two miniature schnauzers, and this is probably the biggest thing they disagree on.

For years, my mom never mentioned this. I remember many birthdays where my little sister and I gave her boxes of Russell Stover Chocolate Covered Cherries, having zero idea that she didn’t love chocolate. A few years ago, she revealed the truth to me over a ritual ice cream lunch date: she’s a vanilla person. That’s not to say she’s boring. No, my mom is anything but boring. The woman is fearless. She’s the kind of person who isn’t afraid to travel around the country with sixty teenagers in tow. She’s the kind of person who, upon finding out that Justin Timberlake’s mom is her friend’s neighbor and JT himself is visiting, will scream “JUUUUUSTIIIIIN!” like a banshee in an effort to get his autograph for her diehard *NSYNC fan daughters. My mom works a full-time job, takes a two mile walk with the dog, makes dinner for my dad, and still takes the time to have an hour phone conversation with you about whether it’s appropriate to wear velveteen pants to a black tie event. She’s the kind of mom that your friends absolutely love, and the kind of mom that is friends with her adult children first and foremost. Bottom line: my mom straight-up rules. And today is her birthday, so let’s make her something vanilla.

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I’ve been on a shortbread kick lately. As the weather is (sort of, not really) starting to turn cooler in New York, I have been drinking a lot of tea. Obviously that requires cookies. Really buttery, crunchy cookies. And, since we’re giving my mom a cookie shout-out, let’s make them vanilla-almond and slice-and-bake. I think she’d approve.

These vanilla-almond shortbread are a breeze to put together. We cream butter and sugar together before adding in vanilla bean paste and just a touch of almond extract. Then we mix in flour and salt, followed by sliced almonds. Next, we form the dough into two logs, wrap them in plastic wrap, and throw them in the fridge for a little bit. Then we just slice them and bake at 325F for 14-17 minutes. All that’s left to do is make a pot of tea and dunk away.

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Vanilla-Almond Shortbread Cookies keep very well at room temperature for at least a week. This makes them perfect for your cookie jar, holiday gifting, or shipping a box to your mom since you can’t be there for her birthday this year.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you more than chocolate.

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Vanilla-Almond Shortbread Cookies
makes about five dozen

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste*
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract*
1/2 cup sliced almonds, optional

In a small bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add sugar and mix until it is completely combined with the butter. Add in the vanilla bean paste and almond extract, and combine. With the mixer running on low, add in flour mixture in two installments, mixing until it is just incorporated. Fold in sliced almonds. Dough will be crumbly, but should hold together when pinched.

Divide dough in half. Take one half and lay it on a piece of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap and clean hands, form the dough into a log. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Refrigerate wrapped dough for at least 45 minutes, or up to three days.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.

Unwrap one log of dough. Using a large, sharp chef’s knife, slice the dough in 1/4″ installments and lay them on the prepared pans at least one-inch apart. Bake for 14-17 minutes, until the tops no longer look doughy and the edges are starting to brown. Let cool on the pans for for 10 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

These keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a week.

Notes:

  1. If you do not have vanilla bean paste, or simply don’t want to use it, you may use the scraped seeds of one vanilla bean in addition to one teaspoon of vanilla extract. If you do not want to use vanilla bean at all, you may use two teaspoons of vanilla extract.
  2. If you would like a more pronounced almond flavor, you may use 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract. Be careful though–almond extract is very potent.

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