Heidesand are German brown butter shortbread cookies. These tender slice and bake cookies are made with browned butter and rolled in turbinado sugar.
In Germany, Heidesand are a traditional Christmas cookie. These cookies are tender and buttery, with a nutty, caramelized flavor from the brown butter.
The edges are rolled in turbinado sugar or pearl sugar before baking. Simple touches like this help to elevate an otherwise plain cookie into something special.
These simple cookies are a well-loved classic and often a holiday favorite. Serve heidesand on your next Christmas cookie tray.
What are shortbread cookies?
If you've never had a shortbread cookie before, they have a different texture than your average chocolate chip cookie.
Shortbread cookies do not contain any leavening agents, like baking soda or baking powder, so they are dense. They also don't contain eggs to hold the cookie together, so shortbread turns out very delicate and fragile, especially fresh from the oven.
Why make a cookie without all of these "standard" baking ingredients? Because shortbread cookies are incredibly tender, buttery, and sweet. They make the perfect pairing with a cup of coffee or tea.
Ingredients and substitutions
Unsalted butter - Can be substituted with salted butter (omit the salt listed in the recipe)
All purpose flour - It is extremely important in baking, and especially for shortbread cookies, to properly measure your flour. I suggest using one of two methods. The most accurate way to measure flour is to use a kitchen scale. If you don't have a kitchen scale, I recommend using the spoon and level method. Use a spoon to fill your measuring cup with flour, then level off with a knife.
Confectioner's sugar - I find that confectioner's sugar (also called powdered sugar, icing sugar, or 10x sugar) is easier to work with in shortbread cookie recipes. However, ¾ cup of confectioner's sugar can be substituted with ½ cup of granulated sugar if needed.
Turbinado sugar - Can be substituted with pearl sugar or any large-grained sugar.
Extracts/Seasoning - Vanilla extract and salt add flavor to your cookies.
How to brown butter
Browning butter is as simple as melting your butter in a saucepan and allowing it to slowly brown and create caramelized bits at the bottom of the pan.
Keep a careful watch over your butter, because it will brown fairly quickly. It can go from brown to burnt in an instant.
Whisk or stir occasionally so that your butter doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan. Once you see a good amount of brown specks collecting in the bottom, remove your butter from the heat.
Your dough will look slightly crumbly - this is normal. Try pinching some dough between two fingers - does it hold together? If so, your dough is the correct consistency.
If your dough is dry and not holding together, add an extra tablespoon of water. This often happens when too much flour is added to the dough - see my "Ingredients" section above for more information on how to properly measure flour.
Slice and bake your cookies
When rolling your dough, don't worry if it's not exactly round. I have a hard time with this and often my cookies turn out more like a rounded square or oval. That's okay because they'll taste great no matter the shape!
Your dough can be made a day or two ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until you have time to bake your cookies.
Slice each refrigerated tube of dough into about ¼ inch slices. Roll the edges in turbinado sugar (or pearl sugar). I found this was easiest to do directly on the counter top.
Homemade cookies will keep for 5 to 7 days in a sealed container. To help keep cookies fresh, place a slice of bread in the container with the cookies. Replace the bread slice as needed.
Baked cookies can be stored in the freezer for up to three months. Allow cookies to come to room temperature on the counter top for about an hour before enjoying.
Heidesand - German Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies
- 1 cup (226 g) unsalted butter
- ¾ cup (85 g) confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups (240 g) all purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon water , or more as needed
- ¼ cup (45 g) turbinado sugar, for rolling
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and stir frequently. Butter will begin to foam and boil. After 4 to 5 minutes you will see brown flecks appear in the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir until butter is golden and flecks are a medium brown color. Watch closely, butter will brown quickly. The entire process will take about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove butter from heat and pour into a bowl. Refrigerate for 15-25 minutes, or until butter is just solidified. You're looking for a room temperature or slightly cooler, solid butter.
- In a bowl, cream together brown butter and sugar. Add vanilla and stir to combine.
- In a separate bowl, sift (or whisk) together flour and salt. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix until a dough forms. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water as needed to bring dough together (this accounts for the water cooked out when browning the butter). Dough will be slightly crumbly, but will hold together when pinched between two fingers.
- Toss dough out onto wax or parchment paper and form into two logs, about 1 ½" wide. Refrigerate for an hour (up to 24 hours).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and unwrap. Using a sharp knife, slice dough into ¼ inch slices. On a sheet of wax paper or parchment, pour a small amount of turbinado sugar. Roll the edges of each cookie in sugar and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet.
- Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies just begin to lightly brown around edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
- Cookies will keep for 5-7 days in a sealed container. To help keep cookies fresh, place a slice of bread in the container with the cookies. Replace the bread slice as needed.
- Raw cookie dough will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days. Cookie dough and baked cookies freeze well, up to 3 months in a sealed plastic container or freezer bag. Allow frozen dough to thaw for up to 10 minutes on the baking sheet before baking, or add 1-2 minutes to the baking time.
- Be sure to check out my 10 tips for baking cookies, based on reader comments and questions!