Poppy Seed Shortbread With Ginger and Nutmeg

December 5, 2019 Updated: December 5, 2019

I make cookies so I have cookies to eat—and not just any cookie, but a French sablé, my favorite buttery shortbread that I enhance with olive oil and spices. I was taught to make sablé Breton in Cancale, France, by chef Olivier Roellinger; it became my weekly task, one I loved. Decades later, I returned to the sablé to sell at La Boîte. For years, I tinkered with formulas to hit the right balance of butter, sugar, and spice (we still change our selections each season), so they snap at first, then crumble, and finally melt in your mouth. When sandwiched, they stay crunchy with drier fillings and meld into tenderness with others. To achieve that magical texture, there’s a high proportion of fat and sugar to flour. That can make the dough a little sticky and soft, so just keep popping it back in the fridge or freezer if it’s difficult to work with. The dough’s still easy to roll and bake, and the cookies are especially satisfying to eat when they come out of your own oven.

The combination of ginger, amchoor, and nutmeg offer a hint of gingerbread’s warmth, but the poppy seeds keep the cookies a little nutty.

Makes about 6 1/2 dozen

For the spice blend:

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons poppy seeds 
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger 
  • 1/2 teaspoon amchoor (dried mango powder)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated mace or nutmeg

For the cookies:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) salted butter, preferably European (85 percent fat), cold and diced
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large egg

Mix together the poppy seeds, ginger, amchoor, and nutmeg.

To make the cookies: Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and spice blend together in a medium bowl.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until well blended but not fluffy. With the machine running, add the vanilla first and then the olive oil, beating until smooth and scraping the bowl occasionally. Add the egg and beat just until incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture. Mix just until incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a very large sheet of parchment paper. Pat into a rectangle and cover with another very large sheet of parchment. Roll the dough into a 12 x 7-inch rectangle that’s a scant 1/4 inch thick, lifting and replacing the top sheet as needed to smooth out any wrinkles in the paper. Use a bench scraper or spatula to press in all four edges to keep them even and straight, and roll lightly again to achieve an even thickness. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. If you’re in a rush, you can freeze the dough until stiff, about 15 minutes.

Remove the top sheet of parchment. Using a pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut the dough into 1-inch squares. Chill again if the dough has softened. Transfer the squares to two parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. Chill again while the oven heats. You want them to be firm if they have softened.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake one sheet at a time until the shortbread is golden brown, 12–15 minutes. Cool completely on the sheets on wire racks.

Make Ahead

The cookies will keep in a tin at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Recipe reprinted from “Mastering Spice,” copyright 2019 by Lior Lev Sercarz. Photographs copyright 2019 by Thomas Schauer. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.