thyme shortbread and teaRefreshing smoothies one day…hot tea the next. It’s San Francisco, after all, so sundresses and icy drinks enjoy but brief moments of glory. As much as I reveled in salads last week, I’m baking this week to keep our kitchen warm.

All that exuberant sunshine encouraged my little pot of thyme to bolt and bloom. Usually, I snip a sprig here and there, but faced with a sudden bounty, I needed to figure out how to use it all up. I found lovely photos of sugared thyme, with detailed instructions on brushing each sprig with a thin layer of egg white, sprinkling with granulated sugar, and then baking lots of cupcakes for something worthy to garnish. Tempting, yes. Realistic, no.

I already have an entire shelf of flavored vinegars, several old enough to sport their own layers of mother, so that easy solution to excess herbs was out of the question.

Fortunately my old, one-bowl standby — shortbread cookies — came to the rescue. I’d made a batch earlier for Robynn’s 35th birthday (get it, sweet thyme? Yeah, I had to explain it to her, too.) But as with many things we give away, we often forget to save enough goodness for ourselves. These cookies are staying in my own kitchen, enough of them for me to sweeten my afternoon tea…until the next heat wave arrives.


I actually don’t like my own sweets that sweet, so the amount of sugar in this recipe is low. If you prefer, increase the measure of sugar to 1/2 cup. Have fun experimenting with other herbs or spices, such as rosemary, sage, cinnamon, cardamom, or saffron. If you don’t have long-grain rice flour (don’t use the glutinous kind!) then simply omit and use 2 cups of all-purpose flour.

Makes about 36 shortbread bars.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg white, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. and line a 13×9-inch sheet pan with parchment.

2. Stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. With a fork, cut the butter into the flour mixture just until the dough comes together. Sprinkle in the thyme leaves and continue stirring until the herb is evenly distributed and the dough is smooth.

3. With a flat or offset spatula, press the dough flat into the sheet pan. Score into evenly sized bars with a sharp knife. Brush lightly with egg white, and then prick each cookie two or three times with the tines of a fork.

4. Bake until golden, 15 to 18 minutes. While the bars are still warm, cut along your previous score lines. Slide the cookies with their parchment paper onto a wire rack and let cool completely. They will continue to crisp, and their flavor will be better after one or two days. Store in an airtight tin, sharing most of them with your friends and saving a week’s worth for yourself.

thyme shortbread

Thyme Shortbread 19 May,2008Thy Tran


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website,, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor