Search form

Donate Today


Savory Sweets: Caramelized Fennel, Thyme and Orange Shortbread

When you’re looking for something a bit less sweet than your typical cookie but still want a treat, try this surprising combination.

October 18, 2017

Whether it’s ice cream, pie or a really good piece of chocolate, it’s rare that you’ll find me passing up the opportunity for at least a nibble. So, it might surprise you that every once in a while, I reach my sweet limit. This usually happens after an over-zealous holiday indulgence, but this year I’m changing the game.

I know the next few months will bring a deluge of sweets, treats and delectables. In a moment of what might be seen as waist-saving sanity (or perhaps it’s because I can already feel my teeth aching — and my dentist yelling) I’m going to switch things up a bit over the next few months. I don’t want to completely deny my sweet tooth, but I’m looking for something different. Something less sweet. Something a bit more… savory.

I’ve always liked mixing savory with sweet: a bit of black pepper sprinkled on strawberries; a chunk of Parmesan cheese and chocolate eaten together. So why not mix a bit of savory into my cookies? I’ll still get an indulgent snack, but — hopefully — not put myself into a sugar coma while doing so.

Sweet meets savory in this shortbread cookie. Sliced fennel root is tossed onto a hot baking sheet and roasted until tender and golden. It’s finely chopped and mixed into a traditional shortbread dough (with a bit less sugar, thanks to the caramelized veggies). For a little pop of fun and flavor, a sprinkling of fresh thyme and a zesting of orange are mixed into the dough. After the shortbread has been well chilled and sliced, it is sprinkled with fennel seeds (for even more savory-sweet fennel flavor) and baked until golden. A perfect treat with coffee or an after-dinner snack, when you want a little nosh but don’t want to break the sugar bank.

Caramelized Fennel, Thyme and Orange Shortbread

Makes about two-dozen cookies


  • 1/2 bulb fennel, cored and sliced
  • Oil, for roasting
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1-and-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • Fennel seeds, for sprinkling (optional)


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place a sheet pan in the oven for 4 minutes. Toss fennel and oil together to coat. Carefully place fennel on the hot sheet pan and roast until tender and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Let cool, finely chop, and reserve 1/4 cup (save remaining fennel for another use).

Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and orange juice; beat until combined. Add flour, salt and baking soda. Fold in fennel and orange zest.

Press dough into a 2-inch diameter cylinder. Wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice chilled dough into 1/4-inch-thick discs. Place on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with fennel seeds and lightly press to stick.

Bake until edges are golden, about 17 minutes. Let cookies cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days or freeze.


Jackie Freeman

Recipe developer, food stylist and culinary tinkerer, Jackie Freeman has worked in the culinary field for over 20 years as a private chef, cheesemaker, culinary instructor, recipe editor and a radio and video personality.

More stories by Jackie Freeman

There are 0 comments

Read Comments Hide Comments

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <xmp><em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd></xmp>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
As a public media organization, KCTS 9 is committed to presenting a diversity of voices and perspectives through the stories we produce. We invite our readers to participate in an active and respectful discourse through our comments feature. All comments are moderated before posting to our website; if we deem a comment to be inappropriate and/or threatening, it will not be published.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.