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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.

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