Orange Blossom Shortbread harnesses one of the world’s great scents in an easy, buttery, and unique, shortbread cookie. These cookies go perfectly with afternoon tea, and they make a beautiful gift, as well.
They say in the days before urban sprawl when the Los Angeles valley was covered with orange groves, that the scent in the spring when all the trees set their blossoms was literally hypnotic. I can only imagine. The scent intensifies at night, and even the few backyard trees on our street have turned my nightly dog walk into an unbelievable sensual experience. Along with jasmine, lilac and rose, orange blossom is one of the most powerful and evocative floral scents.
In the perfume world, orange blossom is known as neroli, and it’s one of the most intoxicating scents on earth.
Orange blossom water is a flavoring distilled from fresh orange blossom petals, as opposed to orange extract which is made from the essential oils in the orange rind. It’s common in Mediterranean foods, but not so much here in the West. I picked some up a while back but haven’t had a chance to use it until now. I found mine in our specialty grocery store, but you can also buy it online.
Shortbread is utterly simple but dependent on a delicate balance of butter and flour with no other added liquids, so flavoring it can be tricky. Your flavoring agents have to be in a relatively dry form or you destroy the unique melt in your mouth texture of the cookie. But there is nothing worse than biting into something expecting a burst of flavor only to be disappointed by a bland, barely there echo of the promised taste.
Going for the most flavor possible I infused the sugar itself with the essence of orange. In the mini processor I whizzed together a cup of sugar, the zest of 1 large orange, and a bit of orange extract. Don’t be afraid of natural flavor extracts, if you buy real extracts ( not ‘flavorings’), they are amazing. The orange extract smells exactly like a fresh orange because it comes from real oranges.
The result is a moist, orange scented sugar that even has a beautiful pale orange tint. I use half for the cookie dough and reserve half to sprinkle on the cookies before they bake.
When I explore a new flavor for the first time I like to keep it simple. I was tempted to add nuts, another spice, or even chocolate to the recipe but held myself back. I’ve infused orange into this cookie in three ways: with orange zest, orange extract and the orange blossom water…. that should be enough to get the point across!
Pair these cookies with Earl Grey Tea for an incredibly heady combination of floral citrus flavors.
- 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (firmly packed) orange sugar (directions below)
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp orange blossom water
- 1 cup sugar
- zest of 1 large orange
- 1 tsp orange extract
- Preheat oven to 350F
- Cream the butter and 1/2 cup of the orange sugar together until fluffy. Be sure to pack down the orange sugar when you measure it, just as you would with brown sugar, since it will have fluffed up during the processing.
- Add the flour and orange blossom water and mix until a soft dough forms.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and bring the dough together into a smooth disk. Add a little more flour if the dough seems excessively sticky.
- Wrap the disk in plastic and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
- Roll out the dough on the floured surface to anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 inch, depending on how you like your cookies. Cut the shortbread with any shape cutter you like; I used a 2 inch biscuit cutter with fluted edges.
- Dust the tops of the cookies with more orange sugar. (You won’t use it all)
- Place the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet. Return the sheet to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Bake for about 13 minutes until firm but not browned.
- Let the cookies cool on the pan for a minute, then transfer to a rack.
- To make the orange sugar, put the sugar, zest and extract in the bowl of a mini food processor and pulse until everything is combined and the sugar is a uniform pale orange color. I shake the machine between pulses a few times to redistribute the sugar and make sure everything gets evenly mixed. Use half of this mixture for the cookies and reserve the other half.
- You'll have more than you need, so you'll have leftover to sprinkle on buttered toast, or in tea.