Hearst Castle Shortbread Cookies Recipe

A beautiful, buttery shortbread cookie recipe straight from the Hearst Castle kitchen.

Hearst Castle Shortbread Cookies

This week I'm sharing with you a beautiful, buttery shortbread cookie recipe. I encountered it while on a mini road-trip late last week. Wayne and I packed up the car and headed south down the California coast to our destination, a beach front campsite in San Simeon, Ca - better known as the home of Hearst Castle. This was my first visit to La Cuesta Encantada, and for those of you aren't familiar with the lavish estate, well.....it is certainly a sight to see.

When you visit William Randolph Hearst's famous estate you have the choice of five different tours. We opted for the one that took us through a few parts of the property I was interested in, namely the pools, the view from the top floor, and of course the kitchen. I posted a few extra pictures here. The morning after we finished our visit we were strolling around neighboring Cambria village when I stumbled on the Castle Cookbook, a 100 page collection of historic menus and recipes. The bounty of the property was evident in the food served there, as highlighted in this passage from the cookbook...

"...Fresh eggs were delivered to the castle each day. the dairy furnished milk, cream, cheeses, and butter. Fruits and nuts were picked from the orchards: oranges, lemons, persimmons, pears, apples, tangerines, apricots, prunes, plums, nectarines, figs, grapefruit, mulberries, kumquats, peaches, avocados, quince, many kinds of berries and black and English walnuts..."

I can attest to this legacy, as a visitor I saw many bejeweled kumquats and oranges ripe for the picking on trees lining the road up to the main house.

So, which recipe to try from The Castle Cookbook? It's brimming with recipes like red caviar canapes, baked apples, cheese puff ups, Yorkshire pudding, popovers, and fruit salads. I decided to try the shortbread recipe, I love a good shortbread, and this versions was a bit different. I don't normally use any leavener in my shortbread cookies - the castle version adds a bit.

shortbread cookie recipe

The shortbread cookies baked up beautifully, and the touch of baking powder added a delicate lightness to the cookies that I appreciated. I thought the shortbread would go along nicely with a big bowl of the stunning Lapin cherries I received from the Batch Family in Manson, Washington. The plan was to take the cherries and shortbread to share with my wine club.

I like my shortbread straight, but this is the kind of cookie that lends itself nicely to various add-ins. Some suggestions: powdered ginger & chopped crystalized ginger, lots of citrus zest, cinnamon and spice, chocolate shaving or just dunk on corner of your cookies in a bit of melted chocolate - other ideas?

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Hearst Castle Shortbread Cookie Recipe

This is a shortbread recipe inspired by the version published in The Castle Cookbook by Marjorie Collard and Ann Marie Lopez. I added a few of my own touches and elaborated on the instructions - the end result is a perfectly light and buttery shortbread cookie with just the right amount of sweetness.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

In a mixing bowl beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat again, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl once or twice as you are mixing. Beat in the vanilla extract. If you have a vanilla bean slit it open along its entire length, scrape out the vanilla bean paste from the interior of the bean, and add this to the mixer as well. Add the flour mixture in two additions. Stir until everything comes together into a thick dough.

Turn the dough out onto a countertop and divide into two pieces, there is quite a bit of dough, so cutting it into two pieces just makes it easier to roll out later on. Press each piece of dough out into a flat patty an inch thick. Wrap each piece in plastic and chill completely in the refrigerator - about thirty minutes. When the dough is chilled, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out 1/4-1/2-inch thick. Cut the dough into desired shapes using cookie cutters or a knife and place on a parchment (or Silpat) lined baking sheet.

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the bottoms of the cookies are barely golden.

Makes 3 or 4 dozen tiny cookies - more or less depending on the size of your cutters.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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Hi Heidi,
I hate to sound uncouth, but if I were to substitute real vanilla extract for the vanilla bean , do you have any idea how much I would use to be equivalent to 1 bean?
These, as always, look fabulous. Thanks so much!


My husband and I have been saying we’re going to take a ride to Hearst Castle, and you’ve just rekindled my desire to go there. Thanks for the pics and for the cookies!

Susan from Food Blogga

Hi Heidi:
Yup, I have made both combos — in fact we can never decide which we prefer so when I make a batch of shortbread I always divide in two after adding the flour and then make half tahini-sesame and the other half anise-sambuca. Happy Monday!

Anne Marie

I made these last night in the shapes of stars. While they were still warm I pressed about 1/3 of them in a sugar cinnamon mix since my daughter wanted them to be a little sweeter. The plain ones went perfect with my morning coffee!


I just made these last night– so light, and perfect with a cup of tea! For the last batch, I half-baked them in flower cutouts, made an imprint in the middle, added a touch of raspberry preserves, then finished baking them. So good!


Rosemary in shortbread is gorgeous…I recommend chopping up a bit for the batter and then placing a spring on top for decoration.


Hi all, I can’t remember exactly where I picked up the butterfly cutters, I think this one was part of a set. I keep my eyes peeled for cute cookie cutters at flea markets and garage sales….
I love(!) all the alternative suggestions – Anne Marie, the tahini & sesame and anise & sambuca variations sound delicious and intriguing – have you made both? FB, I’m also loving the saffron idea – I’ve been on a bit of a saffron kick lately. Great ideas all the way around!
Dvorah, I wouldn’t bother making a cookie like this with margarine. It’s really all about the butter. The butter and the sugar.
Renee, I’m really not sure about the Splenda – I don’t use it. I think you might be better off making a different type of cookie. I remember the SF Chronicle ran an article a while back about baking with Splenda – and how it affected their recipes.
Thanks for all the nice notes about the photos, I hope you all are enjoying your weekend. -h


Pretty photos.

kelly from Portland

J, I tried 2 cups AP flour, 1 cup white whole wheat, and 1 cup almond flour. The cookies came out great!


Oh, yum. I definitely want to make these, maybe with orange zest and one half dipped in some melted chocolate..


I can’t wait to try this recipe tomorrow! How do you think it would work substituting Splenda for the sugar? My aunt has a sugar limited diet and has been craving a cookie and I’d love to make these for her.


I was also curious about the butterfly cutters. Where did you find them? Or did your freehand the shape with a knife? The cookies look beautiful.


Sue, or anyone, I have a huge bounty of purple sage in my garden. I haven’t found anything that highlights the delicate flavor. How much do you suggest I use with this? Desserts never entered my mind to use with herbs.
Any other suggestions for purple sage would be appreciated.


i want to eat the butterfly^^

YOYO's Food

I wonder how Almond Flour would work?


Wardrobes are the most attractive sights to introduce life’s special background. There is not a recipe I personally followed though I do some handout cooking for the most waifed people to pass on each morning a message to the stricken in my region, there is always a belief that, what’s cooking is something good. Thank you.

Kailash Agnihotri

These little morsels look fit for a king. How fitting that they come from a castle!

Deborah Dowd

I love using lavender or rosemary in my shortbread!


I was tempted to buy shortbread today–now I want to make my own!


Like another poster before me, I was going to suggest lavender. A very close family friend of ours died last year; I’d made lavender shortbread one time and she loved them and everytime I make them now, I think of her.
I like a tiny scratch of nutmeg in shortbread as well.


the possibilities are endless with a good shortbread base. may i ask where you got that cookie cutter?
i add saffron instead of vanilla…it has become my default shortbread now.
my other favourite shortbread variation is lemon bars. for this, bake a layer of shortbread half done, smear lemon curd. crumble second layer of shortbread mixture…do not pat. it’s glorious!
love the flickr album too.


Mmmm, shortbread! My two favorite flavor combinations are tahini & sesame and anise & sambuca — they take a touch of fussing with the other proportions, but they are just divine. Thanks for the constant inspiration…

Anne Marie

I just adore shortbread cookies and have been collecting cookie molds for just these delights. However, I can not make a good shortbread. It has no flavor. I will give this receipe a try and try some of the add ins. Your photos are wonderful.


Shortbread is one of my favorite cookies. The baking soda is a great addition.


This is just beautiful


Just what i was looking for after picking up the butter recommended by sam….time to make shortbread.


Oh Heidi, Your pictures are absolutely stunning. The light on the first picture…I am speechless.


Have you ever tried adding rice flour to shortbread cookies? It adds a marvelous texture. I will have to remember to try a little leavening in my next batch.

Amy Sherman

Can I possibly substitue margarine for the butter to make this cookie non-dairy?


I have butterflies in my tummy now! I’ve been to Hearst Castle and it’s amazing. Thanks for bringing back good memories oh and girls, thanks for all the serving ideas! How about a savory cookie with curry?


It would be lovely when serving individual dishes of ice cream or sundaes with chocolate, caramel, or fruity toppings to French it up a bit by garnishing the dessert with a couple of these butterfly shortbread cookies! It would please young and old alike!


Mmm, shortbread…do you think this would go well with almond extract?


I love baking shortbread rounds with concentric indents, and then dabbing homemade jam in the centers after they cool. Raspberry and mango are my favorites.
I love the butterfly cookies, Heidi! May I ask where you got the cutters?


indeed, crushed pecans would be really good if you put the optional vanilla with it. I also like orange-almond (with chopped almonds), or lemon-pistachio, or chocolate-pistachio, or chocolate-hazelnut, and so on and so forth… the butterfly shape is lovely. I need to get me one of those cookie cutters. =)


Oh Heidi, your photos are gorgeous and I love the shortbread butterflies. They might be pretty with some lavender or crushed candied violets, but I think this recipe would also be good with some crushed pecans (I’ve been trying to make pecan sandies using shortbread recipes, but haven’t been really happy, the baking powder might be just the thing I was missing). Thanks!


Sounds like a fun tour.
My very favorite shortbread recipe has a touch of sage in it and it is out of this world.
Sage might go well in this one too.

Sue (coffeepot)

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