These gluten free chocolate chip shortbread cookies are a salty-sweet reminder that chocolate chip cookies and shortbread are two of the best cookies in the world for good reason. Enjoy this gluten free version of the cookies that broke the Internet!
A chocolate chip cookie-shortbread cookie combination
What makes a cookie a chocolate chipper?
Despite the name “chocolate chip cookies” (and there is no shortage of gluten free chocolate chip cookie recipes here on the blog), a chocolate chip cookie is more than just a blond cookie with chocolate chips studded throughout. A cookie is not a chocolate chipper if it doesn't have chips, of course. But it also must have brown sugar in it (or at least some molasses, since brown sugar is just granulated sugar with molasses).
Try making chocolate chip cookies without it, and you'll see what I mean. Beyond that, chocolate chip cookies have the usual cookie ingredients (butter, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, salt). Depending upon the balance of each of these ingredients, the cookies might be thick, thin, crispy, chewy, or crunchy, or one of a million combinations of those qualities.
What makes a cookie shortbread?
The most basic shortbread cookie recipe has only flour, granulated sugar, salt, and butter. There are no eggs and there's no baking soda or baking powder.
Shortbread cookies are buttery and crumbly, simple and plain. We've made brown sugar shortbread cookies, which are made with all brown sugar (there's the molasses), and no granulated sugar.
The brown sugar shortbread is more flavorful than plain shortbread. The balance of ingredients is a bit different, though, to account for the higher moisture content in brown sugar. Both of those cookies are worth making, especially for the holidays.
What makes these chocolate chunk shortbread cookies special?
When Alison Roman's book, Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes, came out in October 2017, her recipe for Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies was suddenly everywhere on the Internet. The second edition of my first cookbook came out that same month, so maybe I just didn't notice until some time had passed?
I'm not sure exactly what took me this long to come up with a gluten free version of her cookies, but once I did I couldn't bear to wait until this year's holiday season to share them with you. The marriage of brown sugar shortbread cookies with chocolate chips was smart enough. But then she went and made them less sweet, all nice and salty—and there's that crusty layer of coarse sugar baked into the edges.
I prefer to make these cookies a lot lighter in color than the original version seems to suggest because I prefer to be able to break them in half without shattering them. They're still crispy, just a bit less crumbly. You could always bake yours until they're darker if you like.
Plus, I don't use salted butter, even though she says that she likes only salted butter in this recipe. The reason is because every brand of salted butter has a different amount of it—which is the reason for baking with unsalted butter in the first place.
Instead of using salted butter, I use unsalted butter and just add more than a usual amount of salt. The saltiness almost makes the chocolate chip taste tangy. It's some kind of voodoo, who knows.
How to make these shortbread chocolate chip cookies
The keys to initial success in any baking recipe are to measure your ingredients carefully by weight, not volume, refrain from making any substitutions, and follow temperature instructions for both ingredients and the raw dough. This recipe is no different.
As the recipe instructions state, you really must beat the butter and sugars until the mixture turns light and fluffy. As the mixture incorporates more and more air, it will become lighter in color and you'll know you've done a great job.
A stand mixer is ideal, but a hand mixer will work, too. You'll just have to work the mixer for longer. Then, you'll add the flours and chopped chocolate wafer, and mix until the dough comes together. It's a relatively dry dough, though, with a texture similar to play-doh so it may seem at first like it won't come together. Keep mixing and it will.
The original recipe calls for chilling the dough for 2 hours, but I found that it was simply too stiff at that point. When I used less flour for a more pliable dough that allowed itself to be sliced more easily once thoroughly chilled, the cookies spread too much during baking.
If you find that the logs are difficult to slice, allow them to warm a bit and try again. And the sliced dough is rather forgiving and allows itself to be reshaped if anything falls apart during slicing. Just use warm hands and press together. It's not a pastry, and the butter has been beaten, not chopped and laminated.
Ingredients and substitutions
As with all simple recipes, make substitutions at your own risk. Each substitution is an additional layer of risk, too, I'm afraid.
Dairy-free: To replace the butter in this recipe, I’d recommend using 9 tablespoons (126 g)Earth Balance buttery sticks (which have a lot of moisture) and 10 1/2 tablespoons (126 g) Spectrum brand nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening (which has nearly no moisture). Omit the salt, though, as Earth Balance is super salty.
Cornstarch: If you’re using Cup4Cup gluten free flour blend, use all Cup4Cup (4 cups + 2 tablespoons total) and omit the cornstarch, as Cup4Cup is already very high in cornstarch.
If you need to omit cornstarch altogether, you try arrowroot in its place or even potato starch. Either should work fine.
Egg-free: The egg wash really helps the coarse sugar to stick to the outside of the logs of raw dough. If you can't have eggs, try using a simple sugar mixture to help the sugar adhere. Or just some water and press the coarse sugar firmly into the logs.
Coarse sugar: I don't trust most brands of “sanding sugar” to be safely gluten free, so I order Chef's Select brand granulated sugar crystals on amazon.com. But you can always use Sugar In The Raw brand coarse sugar, which you can find in most grocery stores. They're just not quite as pretty to my eyes as the white sugar. Small sacrifice.
Chocolate wafers: The original recipe calls for chopped dark chocolate, but I really prefer chopped chocolate wafers because they make shaping and cutting the dough so much simpler. You can also use chocolate chips, but be sure to chop them as well or you'll find slicing the dough to be nearly impossible.
Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
18 tablespoons (252 g) unsalted butter at cool room temperature, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (109 g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 cups (350 g) all purpose gluten free flour (I used Better Batter)
1 1/4 teaspoons xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (90 g) cornstarch
6 ounces dark chocolate wafers, chopped
1 egg (any size), beaten
Coarse sugar crystals (about 1/2 cup), for rolling
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large bowl with a hand mixer, place the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt, and beat on medium-high speed until very light and fluffy (about 3 minutes), stopping about halfway to scrape down the bowl. The mixture will lighten in color when it’s truly fluffy. In a small bowl, place the flour, xanthan gum, and cornstarch, and whisk to combine. Add most of the flour mixture to the beaten butter and sugar mixture, reserving about 2 tablespoons in the bowl. Beat again until well-combined. The dough will seem crumbly at first, but just keep mixing until it comes together. Add the chopped chocolate to the bowl with the reserved dry ingredients and toss to coat, then transfer to the cookie dough. Mix again until the chocolate is evenly distributed throughout the cookie dough.
Divide the dough into two equal portions and place each on its own large sheet of plastic wrap. Press each piece of dough firmly together into a log about 2-inches in diameter and about 7-inches long. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until mostly firm, about an hour.
When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 350°F. Line rimmed baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper and set them aside. Remove one piece of the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap the plastic wrap. Brush the entire log with the beaten egg in a thin layer and sprinkle the top of the log generously with the coarse sugar crystals. Using the plastic wrap, press the crystals into the dough. Turning the dough as many times as necessary, coat the entire log in the coarse sugar crystals. Using a large serrated knife, slice the dough by cross-section into about 8 disks, each a bit more than 1/2-inch thick. If the dough seems to be crumbling at the first cut, allow the dough to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes and try again. Place the disks about 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheets, flat side down, and reshape them as necessary into integrated rounds. Repeat with the other log of cookie dough.
Place the baking sheets, one at a time, in the center of the preheated oven and bake for about 11 minutes or until the cookies are very lightly brown on the edges and set (not glistening) in the center. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on the baking sheet. When the cookies first come out of the oven, if any seem misshapen, use a butter knife or soup spoon to coax the edges back into shape. Then allow the cookies to cool until set.