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Apr 01, 2019 2:48pm

Julia Usher baking in her home kitchen
Blog Recipes and Tips From Julia Usher

Pistachio (or Almond)-Rosewater Shortbread

When I’m at my island home-away-from-home where the über-fragrant Rugosa Rose grows with abandon on every roadside, I infuse the butter and sugar in this recipe with the real deal: the flower petals themselves. But, alas, not everyone is lucky enough to have fresh roses available for flavoring, even during their growing season. So I’m giving you my shortcut version, a recipe from my book Ultimate Cookies, that calls for readymade rosewater instead. Though if you’d like to start with the petals, see my tips for modifying this recipe in Step 4.

Yield: About 2 dozen (2 1/2-inch-diameter) cookies

Prep Talk: For easiest handling, chill the dough 1 to 2 hours before rolling and cutting. If chilled longer, the dough will get quite firm and can be difficult to roll straight from the fridge. In this case, let it sit wrapped, at room temperature for 15 minutes or more, until it becomes workable. The dough can also be frozen one month or more with minimal loss of flavor if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then foil. Note: The use of superfine (or confectioner’s) sugar makes this shortbread more delicate than all-granulated sugar renditions.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup shelled salted pistachios (with the skins rubbed off) or blanched slivered almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sifted superfine (or confectioner’s) sugar
  • About 1 teaspoon rosewater (Add gradually and to taste, as different brands vary in their flavoring intensity.)
  • About 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, for sprinkling on top (optional)


1 | Mix the dough. Combine the flour, pistachios (or almonds), and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the nuts are finely ground but not pasty. Place the softened butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to bring the ingredients together; then beat on medium to medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the rosewater. Gradually blend in the flour-nut mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed, to ensure even mixing.

2 | Chill the dough. Flatten the dough into a disk (about 1/2 inch thick, to ensure more rapid and even chilling) and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until firm enough to roll without sticking. Alternatively, flatten the disk even thinner and pop in the freezer to accelerate the chilling process.

3 | Roll, cut, and bake the shortbread. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line 2 or more cookie sheets with parchment paper (or silicone baking mats) and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness and cut out assorted shapes with your favorite cookie cutters. Using an offset spatula (to minimize distortion of the cutouts), carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them no less than 3/4 inch apart. If you don’t plan to ice these cookies, sprinkle them evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until the cookies are lightly browned on the bottom and firm to the touch, or about 25 to 30 minutes for 2 1/2-inch rounds.(Baking time will vary with cookie size and thickness.)

Immediately transfer the cookies to wire racks using an offset spatula to prevent breakage. Cool completely before frosting (if desired) and/or containing for storage. (If cookies are contained while still warm, they will usually soften.)

4 | Notes for using the real deal (and follow-along via photos 2 through 5, right). Start a day or two ahead by containing about 1 cup loosely packed rose petals (rinsed and pesticide-free, of course) with the sugars in an airtight container. The fragrance of the petals will slowly make its way into the sugar. However, the sugar will also get lumpy, so it will need to be sifted to remove the petals and lumps before use.

Also melt about 1 1/4 cups butter (more than called for in the basic recipe) and add about 4 to 5 cups loosely packed rose petals to the butter while it is warm. Let the petals sit in the butter until it has cooled, so that any residual heat works as long as possible to extract the petals’ essential oils. Re-melt the butter if it has solidified and strain out the rose petals. Be sure to squeeze the petals firmly to remove any retained butter. (Some butter will invariably get lost in this process, which is why I start with more than 1 cup.) Measure out 1 cup butter; then chill it until solidified, but still soft. Proceed to make the recipe above, substituting the rose-sugar and -butter as the regular ingredients are called for. The store-bought rosewater can be omitted, unless you’re a rose fanatic and want to further amp up the flavor.

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Julia—what a lovely recipe! I was wondering how much you’ve experimented with the various rose waters available on the market. I recently developed an ice cream recipe using (Lebanese) Cortas brand rose water, with just 1 tsp providing plenty of flavor to a a quart of ice cream. One of my testers followed the recipe using the same amount of rose water from Trader Joe’s and it was entirely undetectable, a surprise to me. Can you share your experience with the range of intensities in rose waters you have used? Thanks! Jennie

By Jennie Schacht on July 16, 2012

Hi, Jennie, and thanks for your comment. I haven’t yet done a thorough evaluation of brands (i.e., a systematic assessment of which are stronger or weaker than others), but I have tested different brands in the same recipe and gotten markedly different results. So I can say with decent certainty that there is a lot of variation in intensity by brand, and perhaps some of the variation also has to do with shelf life (i.e., when in the product’s life I picked it off the shelf and used it). Likewise, flavorings carry differently into different recipes/solutions. For instance, I find that rose petals infused into simple syrup are much more potent than the same qty (of the same petals picked on the same day) infused into the same qty of melted butter. I think this has to do with the solubility of certain flavors in water vs. fat, etc. People also seem to have a love-hate relationship with rosewater, more so than with most other flavorings. So while I most always recommend flavoring to taste, I think that’s even more important to do with rosewater, with whatever brand you might be using.

By Julia M Usher on July 17, 2012

Thanks for your speedy and helpful reply, Julia. I think all of that is quite true. Though I do believe my aging bottle of rose water provided quite potent flavor! I’m going to pick up some of the TJ rose water and I’ll let you know what I find compared with Cortas, which I think is one of the more commonly available Middle Eastern brands. Thanks again!

By Jennie Schacht on July 17, 2012