Simple Espresso Shortbread

published Dec 3, 2021
Espresso Shortbread Recipe

It only takes a handful of ingredients to make these coffee-lover's-dream shortbread.

Makes24 cookies

Prep20 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 25 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

This recipe is from our Cookie Time Machine — a trip through the most iconic cookies of the past 10 decades, paired with 10 fresh twists for right now. Click here to see the most important cookies of the 1920s through today — and gaze forward with our Cookie of the Future!

If you were baking in the ’90s, there’s a good chance that you were using a Martha Stewart recipe, like this simple, elegant espresso shortbread.

Ah, the ’90s — that heady mix of analog and burgeoning digital life. Coming out of the recession of the mid-’80s, with the election of Bill Clinton and the reversal of tax cuts, the economy boomed and the federal government ran a budget surplus. More and more Americans had access to home computers, the internet, cable television, and cell phones. But the decade also struggled with racial violence, mass shootings, and how to react to newly out LGBTQ+ Americans. 

At the beginning of the decade, grunge was the music and fashion reaction to the neon pop culture of the late 1980s. The loose jeans, flannel shirts, and work boots of Pacific Northwest blue-collar workers became cool. Thanks to bands like Nirvana, Seattle became the center of the cool universe and with it an interest in artisanal coffee and espresso drinks spread across the nation. Although espresso — invented in Italy — had been around in Italian neighborhoods across the country since the late 19th century, in the 1960s the latte and cappuccino became increasingly popular. Both Seattle’s Best Coffee and Starbucks were located in or near the famous Pike’s Place Market in downtown Seattle; Seattle’s Best was founded in the 1960s, and Starbucks in the 1970s. By the 1990s, Starbucks had shifted from selling just fresh roasted beans to a burgeoning coffee shop empire. The expensive and complicated drinks became a status symbol for business elites and cool kids alike.  

The 1990s had a new, casual atmosphere, too. Casual dining expanded dramatically in the 1990s, filling the void between fast food and fine dining. Franchises like Applebee’s went from just 100 locations in 1989 to 1,000 in 1998. Olive Garden, TGI Friday’s, and 99 joined the ranks of restaurants that catered to two-income families who wanted to eat out on a regular basis. At the same time, fine dining was rejecting the minimalist haute cuisine of the late 1980s and instead embracing a rustic aesthetic. Tuscan and Southwest aesthetics went from restaurant walls to home interiors, as adobe pink and turquoise vied for favor with saffron yellow and merlot. 

Cable television came to dominate American life, and the Food Network launched in 1993. Although local television stations and PBS had run chef-led cooking shows for decades, the TV Food Network, as it was originally called, was the first to feature only cooking shows. But although Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay soon became national celebrities, only one person on television typified the style and drive of American food and homemaking in the 1990s: Martha Stewart.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

By the 1990s the model-turned-caterer-and-home-decorator had built a media empire based on her Connecticut aesthetic: a powerful combination of old-money wealth and tradition with modern sensibilities about household management. With her timeless personal style, perfectionism, and Shaker-minimalist tendencies, Martha managed to make home decorating, entertaining, crafting, and scratch cooking fashionable and desirable for the average American woman. Home-ec got a serious glow-up.

By the mid-1990s, Martha Stewart Living was both a nationally syndicated television show and a monthly magazine. In 1993, the same year the television show debuted, she published Martha Stewart Living Holidays. The cookbook is quintessentially Martha, hearkening back to a Shaker-styled past with Christmas cookie recipes like gingerbread and Moravian Christmas cookies (there they are again), but also of-the-moment creations, like chocolate orange shortbreads and espresso shortbreads.

The Modern Twist

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

For a modern take on Simple Espresso Shortbread, check out the Vanilla Oat Milk Latte Shortbread Sticks.

Our Three Most-Loved Cookie-Baking Tools

Before you preheat the oven, gear up with these cookie-making essentials.

  • The Sheet Pan Every Kitchn Editor Owns: This sturdy, won’t-ever-warp pan is great for cranking out a ton of picture-perfect sweets. Bonus: It comes in great colors, which makes baking even more fun.
  • Our Tried-and-Tested Favorite Cooling Rack: We love these racks for their criss-cross design, which adds stability, makes sure your precious treats won’t slip though, and prevents the rack from wobbling or warping.
  • The Little Spatula That Every Baker Needs: This thin-but-sturdy spatula is great for gently loosening your cookies from the pan and transferring them to the cooling rack. It’s particularly handy for moving small or delicate treats.

Espresso Shortbread Recipe

It only takes a handful of ingredients to make these coffee-lover's-dream shortbread.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 25 minutes

Makes 24 cookies

Nutritional Info


  • 2 sticks

    (8 ounces) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon

    instant coffee or espresso granules

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 1/4 cups

    all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling


  1. Place 2 sticks unsalted butter in a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Let sit at room temperature until softened.

  2. Add 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar to the butter. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until lightened in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules, and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and beat until combined.

  3. Add 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and beat on the lowest speed until just combined. Scrape the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and form into a disk. Wrap the disk tightly in the plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is firm, at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

  4. If the dough is very cold, let it sit out at room temperature for 45 minutes. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

  5. Unwrap the dough and place on a sheet of lightly floured parchment paper; lightly flour the top of the dough and a rolling pin. Roll out into a 12 1/2-inch square about 1/4-inch thick. Trim 1/4-inch from each side of the dough so you’re left with a 12-inch square. Cut the square into thirds (4 inches apart), then cut each piece crosswise into 8 (1 1/2-inch) wide pieces.

  6. Transfer the cookies to one of the baking sheets, spacing them evenly apart. Refrigerate until firm, at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 325ºF.

  7. Transfer half the cookies to the second baking sheet and arrange them evenly apart on both sheets. Use a knife to lightly score the middle of each cookie (do not press all the way down). Prick each cookie with a fork 4 times, poking straight down about halfway through.

  8. Bake for 12 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets between racks and from front to back. Bake until lightly browned, 8 to 12 minutes more. Let cool completely on the baking sheets.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living Holidays, published in 1993.