Some things are so good they can only be described as outrageous. If you love vanilla and butter, you'll agree that with two types of vanilla, these shortbread cookies are Outrageously Vanilla.
Not only are the cookies outrageously good, the dough is multi-use, serving quite well for tarts and bars. You'll want to use the best unsalted butter you can afford, and both types of vanilla. Tahitian vanilla is used for its floral aroma while Madagascar Bourbon vanilla is used for its familiar, warm flavor. If you can't find Tahitian vanilla beans, get the extract. As for the Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, I find the paste to be an excellent flavoring agent, much better than extract. You really do need both types of vanilla.
Vanilla Shortbread Cookies
12 oz (340 g) unsalted butter
10 oz (280 g) granulated sugar
1/2 oz (13 g or 2 teaspoons) Fleur de Sel
seeds from 1 Tahitian vanilla bean (or 1 tablespoon Tahitian vanilla extract)
seeds from 2 Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans (or 2 tablespoons vanilla paste)
3 egg yolks
16½ oz (470 g) all-purpose flour
Cream the butter, sugar, and salt to pale yellow. Add the vanilla seeds, extract, or paste and the egg yolks, then mix thoroughly. Add the flour all at once and stir until thoroughly incorporated.
Now you'll need to make some decisions. You have enough dough for about four dozen cookies, or a tray of bars and about 2 dozen cookies, or a tart or two and possibly some cookies.
To make cookies, form the dough into logs, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours, or preferably overnight. The dough freezes well after it cures, and will hold in the freezer for a month.
When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Line a chilled cookie sheet with parchment paper. Slice a roll of dough to make cookies of the size you want—I prefer about ¼" thickness—then place them onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake until done, about 11 minutes for softer cookies, 15 minutes for crisp cookies. I generally start checking at about nine minutes and determine how they're baking on that day to determine how long to bake them.
Let the cookie cool on the pan for about five minutes to ensure they've set, then transfer to a cooling rack. For best flavor, seal the cooled cookies in an airtight container overnight. They should last about a week in an airtight container, should you be able to keep these cookies around that long. I never can.
Form some dough into rounds large enough to roll out to the size you need, wrap them in plastic, refrigerate for about an hour, then roll out to the size you need and place into the tart pan. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about an hour. Alternatively, prepare the tart pan and press the dough into place, cover with plastic, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about an hour. Proceed with the instructions in your favorite tart recipe.
Prepare a jelly roll, quarter sheet, or other pan by lining it with parchment cut larger than the pan so there will be overhang on the sides. Press the dough into the prepared pan ensuring the corners are filled, cover with plastic, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about an hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C, then bake for 20 minutes.
While the crust is baking, prepare your favorite bar topping. This is an excellent one if you don't have a favorite.
Nut Bar Topping
3 cups chopped, lightly toasted nuts
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ teaspoon Fleur de Sel or kosher salt
spices (ground cinnamon, freshly ground nutmeg, etc.) to taste
honey (for drizzling)
Use any nut or combination of nuts you wish. Thoroughly mix together everything but the honey. This quantity of topping will cover a quarter sheet pan.
When the crust has finished baking, remove it from the oven and spread the topping liberally over the entire surface. Return to the oven and bake a further 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle ½ cup or so of honey over the surface, then return to the oven and bake 5-15 minutes, depending on how thick you made the crust and how much honey you used. Let cool completely in the pan.
Using the overhanging parchment paper, transfer the "cookie" to a cutting surface. If it appears that the cookie is going to break, refrigerate until chilled, then lift out. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Both the cookies and the bars make excellent food gifts during the holiday season.