Heidesand are German browned 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. Simple in appearance, these cookies are tender and buttery, with a nutty, caramelized flavor from the browned 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.
While these cookies may look plain and modest, they are well loved and often a holiday cookie tray favorite.
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.
Plus, shortbread cookies can be made with only three ingredients – butter, sugar, and flour. Anything in addition is there for flavor. For this recipe, that would be salt, vanilla, and the additional step of browning your butter.
Shortbread dough can be difficult to work with – it is crumbly at first, but can be formed into a tube, a disc, or rolled out and sliced. And because flour is commonly mis-measured (you’ll want to spoon the flour into your measuring cup, not scoop it straight from the container), people frequently have problems making shortbread cookies.
It may take some time to be able to recognize the right texture for shortbread dough. But, once you’ve successfully made a batch of your own, you’ll be a pro.
I will take you step by step through the process of making your own German heidesand cookies. I hope you love them as much as I do!
How to make heidesand
First, gather your ingredients.
To make your own heidesand cookies, you’ll need vanilla extract, butter, confectioner’s sugar, turbinado sugar (for rolling), all-purpose flour, and salt.
First, you’ll need to brown your butter. This can be done a few days ahead of time, if you’re planning ahead. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt your butter. It will get hot and bubbly.
Keep a careful watch over your butter, because it will brown fairly quickly, and can go from brown to burnt in an instant. See how the butter is slowly turning a golden color over time?
Whisk occasionally so that your butter isn’t burning at the bottom of the pan. Once your butter begins smelling nutty and caramelized, it’s almost done.
Once you see a good amount of brown specks collecting in the bottom, remove your butter from the heat. Refrigerate until cooled and solidified. In a bowl, combine your butter and confectioner’s sugar. Add your vanilla extract and mix. Then, add your dry ingredients (that have been whisked together) and mix until incorporated.
Your dough will look crumbly – this is normal. Test your dough. Try pinching some dough between two fingers – does it hold together? If so, your dough is the correct consistency.
If your dough is sticky, add 1/4 cup more flour. And if your dough is dry and not holding together, add 1 tablespoon of water.
For shortbread, I often suggest leaving out 1/4 cup of flour. Combine the rest and see how your dough looks. If you need to add more, you can.
Often, inconsistencies with shortbread dough goes back to the measuring of flour. The best way to measure flour is to spoon the flour into your measuring cup, then level off with a knife.
If you scoop directly from the flour container with your measuring cup, then shake to level, this will pack the flour down into the cup. This leads to adding too much flour to your recipe, and a dry dough.
The longer flour sits in a container, the more compact it becomes. If your flour has been sitting for a while, give it a stir or a whisk to loosen it back up!
Slice and bake your cookies
Divide your dough in half and form into two logs, about 1 1/2″ wide. Mine sort of turned into rectangles or ovals.
If you’re like me, you’re not good at forming dough into perfectly round logs. I don’t know what it is! Luckily, they taste great no matter the shape.
Refrigerate your dough for at least an hour, up to 24 hours. Once your oven is preheated, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and grab your chilled cookie dough.
Slice each tube of dough into about 1/4 inch slices. Roll the edges in turbinado sugar (or pearl sugar). I found this was easiest to do directly on the counter top, as opposed to pouring the sugar into a bowl.
Place your cookies 2 inches apart on your baking sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes. The edges will begin to barely turn brown when they’re done.
Heidesand - German Browned Butter Shortbread Cookies
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour *
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup 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. 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 cool and solidified. You're looking for a room temperature or slightly cooler, solid butter.
- In a bowl, cream together 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. Dough will be 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 1/2" wide. Refrigerate for an hour (up to 24 hours).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and unwrap. Using a sharp knife, slice dough into 1/4 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 removing from sheet to cool completely.
- Your cookies will keep for 5-7 days in a sealed container. To help keep cookies fresh, you can place a slice of bread in the container with the cookies. Replace the bread slice as needed.
- You can keep raw cookie dough 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.
German Cookie Recipes
Make all four of these delicious German cookies below using my easy to follow recipes below!
Left to right:
- Zimtsterne – German Cinnamon Star Cookies
- Haselnussmakronen – German Hazelnut Macaroons
- Vanillekipferl – Vanilla Crescent Cookies
- Heidesand – German Browned Butter Shortbread Cookies (you are here)