Victorian Rosemary Shortbread

Yesterday was an almost unbelievably beautiful early fall day, with the sun shining, the sky a deep, Kodachrome blue, and the clouds like vanilla meringues. I puttered around in the garden, noting that the herbs–the basil, the sage, rosemary, and the parsley–were at their peak. The rosemary was especially green and glistening, and I found myself mulling over ways to use it. I’ve been watching a wonderful BBC series (on DVD) called “Royal Upstairs Downstairs,” about the stately homes that Queen Victoria visited during her reign. I was especially interested to see a food historian re-create dishes served to the Queen, and in one episode he prepared a special shortbread, made with an egg yolk, which would be rather unusual nowadays. The shortbread was topped with a sugar crown that was gilded with real gold leaf. At any rate, all this was rolling around in my mind and I decided to try to make a rosemary shortbread of such deliciousness that even a Queen would enjoy it. I found a shortbread recipe using egg yolk, and decided to give it a go. The result was absolutely delicious, with the butter and the rosemary flavors mingling wonderfully. I definitely will keep this recipe in mind for Christmas!

By the way, using herbs in shortbread is not all that unusual. I have also seen recipes for lavender shortbread. Both rosemary and lavender are in the mint family, so it’s not that far a stretch to use them in a sweet.

The original recipe came from

Victorian Rosemary Shortbread

This book is “The World of Rosemary,” by Adelma Grenier Simmons.

1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk, beaten with a fork
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Take the butter from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before beginning. It should soften a bit, but not be soft or gooey.

Cream butter thoroughly, and add sugar. Continue to cream thoroughly until no streaks of butter remain, and the mixture is light. Add the beaten egg yolk and beat thoroughly.

Strip the leaves off of a 6-inch sprig of rosemary, and then chop. This will yield about one teaspoon chopped leaves.

Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture, along with the chopped rosemary. Stir with a spoon until it comes together, and then use your impeccably clean hands to knead the dough for a minute or two. Form into an 8″ disk; wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to chill.

Roll out dough, which should be chilled but pliable, to a 12 x 10 rectangle (approximately). Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes, or cut into rectangles. Place on a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper, or is lightly greased. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-18 minutes. The edges will be lightly browned.

Baking notes: I didn’t mind mixing this by hand with a big, strong spoon, but you certainly can use an electric mixer. These cookies are very tender and crispy, and are best made using the parchment paper. Parchment paper is inexpensive, and is now widely available. Once you give it a try, you won’t be without it.

I used a dove cookie cutter, and here it leaves a trail of crumbs. I put a little sprig of rosemary in its beak.

Gardening note: If you have a container of rosemary outside, it can withstand some light freezes, but needs to be brought in before really cold weather sets in. It will overwinter if you can keep it in a spot where there is bright light and good air circulation. I like to lightly spritz it will a fine mist of water now and then during the winter, hoping it will imagine it’s somewhere on its native Mediterranean shores.

While in my garden yesterday, this obliging mourning cloak butterfly with raggedly wings basked in the sunlight as I took its picture.


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