Espresso Burnt Sugar Shortbread


It’s cookbook season, and new books are hitting the shelves (and my mailbox) daily. Most of them are just okay. And then once in a while a book comes along that, for a variety of reasons, really speaks to me. I had never heard of Ovenly before opening this book. It turns out it is a bakery in New York. According to the cover of the book it is “New York’s Most Creative Bakery”, which is a ridiculous thing to claim. The bakery was started by two friends, Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, who met in a book club, both with Eastern European roots and a serious interest in baking. I really liked the introductions written by the owners, they both seem thoughtful, charming, and passionate about what they do. My first flip through the book had me wanting to bake everything, from Nutella and Banana Coffee Cake to Bloody Mary Scones and Jelly Donut Muffins. These are the sorts of things that you actually want to bake at home.


It is rare that a cookbook makes me want to work my way through it from cover to cover. But this one actually made its way into my backpack and I carried it around with me for a few days reading it whenever I got a chance. Agatha and Erin seem like a couple of kindred spirits and so I was anxious to start baking with them. I began with this recipe, and made it twice in a week. It was that good. I am a sucker for coffee flavored sweets, and these cookies have a strong and pure coffee flavor. The coffee-flavored dough is riddled with pieces of chewy/crunchy caramel candy that make each bite an adventure. Man, these are good.

Funny aside: The authors seem to have a good sense of humor, so they would be okay with me poking a little fun. The burnt sugar in these cookies is just some caramelized sugar. “Burnt” is one of those food words that is suddenly very cool and adds some edgy danger to your menu. “Salted” is another good one. Anyway, I had a major LOL while working on this recipe because one of the instructions in the recipe for “Burnt Sugar” is “Do not burn the sugar.” Hilarious.

These are a little more complicated than your average cookie and the dough requires some chilling, so plan in advance. But the cookies keep well and are well worth the effort. I think they’d be nice as holiday gifts, too. And I encourage everyone to check out the book. I’m going to be using it a lot in the coming months.



Notes: Get the espresso ground as finely as possible. I actually used a mortar and pestle, my grinder did not get it ground finely enough. Use good butter.

Espresso Burnt Sugar Shortbread (adapted slightly from Ovenly by Agatha Kulagra & Erin Patinkin)

  • 1/2 cup “burnt” sugar bits
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cold-brew coffee (or strong espresso, cooled)
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons very finely ground espresso
  • Turbinado sugar, for garnishing

Heavily butter the bottom and sides of a 9×12(13?)-inch rimmed baking sheet (a quarter sheet pan).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the butter, confectioners’ sugar and salt together on low speed for 10 seconds, and then increase to medium-high speed and mix until light and fluffy—this should take about 3-4 minutes. Add the cold brew coffee at a low speed. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and the ground espresso.

In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the flour mixture with the burnt sugar bits.

With the machine off, add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Turn the mixer on low and mix for about 30 seconds. Turn the machine off again, and add the rest of the flour mixture, and mix again for another 30 seconds. Add the flour-coated burnt sugar bits and mix on low speed for a few seconds, until incorporated.

Press the dough evenly onto the prepared sheet pan. Place a layer of plastic wrap on top and using a rolling pin or small glass, roll the dough to smooth the top and to ensure it is spread evenly in the pan. My dough was soft enough that I just used a small offset spatula to spread the dough evenly in pan.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, so the dough firms up.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Remove the pan with cookie dough from fridge and cut the dough into 2-inch(ish) squares. Use a small offset spatula to remove the dough squares from that baking sheet and onto the parchment-lined sheet (or sheets). Leave an inch or so between cookies. Place sheet pan with cookies in freezer for 15-30 minutes.

Remove the sheet of cookies from the freezer and sprinkle each cookie with turbinado sugar. Bake for 18-24 minutes, until lightly golden brown.

Burnt Sugar

  • 1 cup sugar

Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Put the sugar into a heavy-bottomed skillet, and heat over medium-high heat. Mix the sugar continuously with a wooden spoon until it has completely melted and is dark golden-brown. Do not burn the sugar (LOL). As you are stirring, break up sugar clumps with your spoon. The entire process should take about 5 minutes.

Carefully pour the melted sugar onto the prepared baking sheet and spread it evenly.

Let the “burnt” sugar cool completely. Once it has completely hardened, move it to a cutting board and, using a knife, chop it into bits about 1/4-inch in size.

Store the chips in a cool, dry place.

22 comments to “Espresso Burnt Sugar Shortbread”

  1. Ovenly is the best! Haven’t seen the cookbook yet, but their various sweet and savory scones are terrific, and if it is in the book, the chocolate stout cake is deeply wonderful.
    Hoping all is well in Chicago!

  2. Ooohhh that photo of the burnt sugar is the bomb! The tawny gold sister to a batch of Walt & Jesse’s best Baby Blue! What’s more addicting – Espresso Burnt Sugar Shortbread or crystal meth? Stay tuned, bitches, for Baking Bad…

  3. I need to practice my burnt sugar skills. I have always been wary of stirring the sugar but if you recommend stirring it, I will try this and probably have more success! This sounds like a book I would love.

  4. Thanks for the cook book rec! – I’ve been eyeing Ovenly and its on my list to purchase along with a few others this Holiday season. I can’t wait to see your list at the end of the year. I would love to hear if you have any positive (or more importantly, negative) feedback re: Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi…or Sean Brock’s Heritage.

  5. We ordered our wedding cake from Ovenly! Vanilla bean cake with fig compote and Bourbon buttercream frosting. Our guests raved about it. So. Good.

  6. Welp, these sound delightful. They may be going on the holiday cookie list this year…

  7. what is good butter? I never know what brand is considered good (my palate is not so refined yet) same goes with olive oil. What a good one?

  8. Theone Perloff says:

    November 5th, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    I use the Filtron Jr. system to make pure extract of coffee syrup. Is this what you mean by “cold brew”?

  9. I checked out “Ovenly” from the library a week ago and, like you, want to bake my way right through the book. First on my list, though, are the Bloody Mary scones. Can’t wait.

  10. Maybe this is just me but I think actual burnt sugar would work well with how bitter coffee is :)

  11. Hi Theone- I don’t know what that is, but any strongly brewed coffee will work.
    Oni- Sorry for being imprecise! What I really meant was butter with a high fat content. Plugra is widely available.
    Cat- I like Dorie’s new book and do not like Heritage. I was really disappointed by Heritage because I like Sean Brock. There was not a single recipe I felt I would tackle at home. They were all complicated and fussy and the book feels cold and formal in a way that does not make sense with him or his style. My two cents. : )

  12. I MISSED YOU!!!

  13. Thanks, Amelia! I am back in the saddle. XO

  14. I’ve had my eye on this book, but I’ve yet to pull the trigger and buy it. I think Huckleberry is next on my list for baking books to buy. Have you had a chance to look at Huckleberry yet?

  15. oh these are definitely happening for holiday season 2014! thanks for the recipe, Tim–and your cookbook endorsement counts for a lot, so I know I can get this for a baking friend of mine with a similar sense of humor :)

  16. Make their peanut butter cookie! Its amazing.
    Last time I was in New York, I stayed down the street from Ovenly and walked by their store every day. I didn’t go in until the last day of the trip, to buy a couple treats for the airport wait.
    Post-trip, I obsessively searched for the peanut butter cookie recipe and pre-ordered the book.

  17. schneiderluvsdoof says:

    November 11th, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    These are now my favorite cookie besides “balls” and peanut butter. Oh and polveron if that counts as a cookie. AND that photo of the shards is georg.

  18. Made, and whoah. These are definitely a keeper. I actually like them better now than I did when they were warm from the oven, which is weird, but a definite virtue in a cookie when you plan to keep a container around for the holidays. All of the coffee-heads in my life (and there are a lot of them!) have been raving about this one. Thanks, Tim!

  19. So very happy you liked these, Nishta! Yeah, I really enjoyed them, too. I am pretty into coffee-flavored sweets. xo

  20. As above, thank you for the book recommendation. I live on the other side of the ocean and visited Ovenly when in NYC. Is the recipe for the pistachio cardamon loaf in the book? If so, I feel a purchase coming on….!

  21. This is a fantastic book recommendation ~ I got it for Christmas based on this post. The Bourbon Chocolate Chip Cookies with Tarragon are also wonderful! Although arguably it is hard to go wrong with any recipe in the book…

  22. The espresso burnt sugar shortbread cookies were wonderful! Thanks for posting the recipe:)

What do you think?