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. 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.
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 weight your flour or spoon the flour into your measuring cup, not scoop it straight from the container), it can be a difficult cookie style to master.
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!
Ingredients and substitutions
Unsalted butter and salt can be substituted with salted butter.
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.
Using your measuring cup to scoop the flour compacts the flour into the cup, adding up to 25% extra flour to your dough. This results in a dry, crumbly dough that won't hold together.
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 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 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 1 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.
Heidesand - German Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- ¾ cup confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ 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 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. 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 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 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.