Chocolate Orange Shortbread Cookies

I like Hershey's Special Dark for this recipe as it gives baked goods a dark, nearly black color and a rich cocoa flavor. However, Ghiradelli unsweetened cocoa or any other brand will do just fine and give more prominence to the orange flavor.

  • Prep time: 35 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 2 1/2 dozen


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon of orange zest


1 Preheat oven to 325°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2 Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a bowl. (Do not skip this step as cocoa powder has a tendency to clump. You want the dry ingredients sifted to ensure a tender cookie.) Set aside.

3 Make the cookie dough: Beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed in a mixer for 5 minutes, being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom as needed. Add the vanilla and orange zest and mix for 30 seconds.

Add about half the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Scrape down the bottom and sides and add the rest of the flour mixture.

Once incorporated mix at medium speed for 2 minutes.

4 Roll out the cookie dough: Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and place the dough on it. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness with a rolling pin. (You can also lightly flour a work space, but I find my method far easier, cleaner, and the shortbread keeps a sandy texture by not picking up the extra flour.)

You may find the dough getting too soft. If it does, place it in the freezer for ten minutes to firm it up before you continue rolling or cutting. (The dough is very hard to work with when soft.)

5 Cut into desired shapes and place on the baking sheets about 1-inch apart.

6 Bake: Bake at 325°F for 13-15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. It can be difficult to tell when these cookies are done, so when they smell like freshly baked cookies and the edges are slightly firm but still give a bit then consider them done (simply enough, it takes some judgment on your part).

Remove the pans and allow the cookies to cool for a minute or two before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

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  • Diana

    Would powdered sprinkled on the cookie be good?

  • Eleanor Eastick

    Can the dough be rolled into logs, chilled and then cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds. It would be easier, if not as elegant.

  • Arzu Ayla

    I made these today, the dough was too soft to roll out and cut with cookie cutter. So, I made small balls and dropped them on the cookie sheet. i actually used one lemon zest, since i didn’t have any oranges at hand. I made the cookies look like lemons too. They turned out soooo good. I wish I can attach a photo here. The only mistake I made was to keep them in the oven for too long, they dried out a little, but still was yummy. Thanx for the recipe :)

  • cindy

    I made these cookies again today. Little hearts for Valentine’s. They are great. I rolled them out between two silpats and transferred them to the baking sheet with a thin metal spatula. Thanks again for the recipe. It pleases the kids and the grown ups.


  • Jade

    These cookies are AMAZING. I had absolutely no problem with the recipe – they turned out perfectly. I used a whole orange for the zest but even that was quite faint so could even have used a bit more. Will definitely keep this recipe!


  • inka

    I had the same problem as Jade! Mine started bubbling on the tray and spread out..they came out kind of brittle so I pulled out the second batch a lot quicker. Shame, I used such cute cookie cutters and in they end the rubble :-) tasted great. My butter wasn’t very roomtemperature but I did follow the rest of the recipe. Maybe next time I’ll try a bit more flour. Oh, I have a fan oven, would that make a difference?

    Inka, I can’t say on the fan oven. My guess, would be to chill the dough after cutting and check the oven temperature if it’s not running to proper temp. ~Garrett

  • Jade

    The first time I made these cookies they were perfect but every time after, they spread during baking and turn into one flat sheet! I’m not sure what is going wrong, I’ve tried them about 5 more times and I can’t get them to work even after chilling them to harden up the dough. Any suggestions?

    I am not sure. A touch more flour can always help stiffen things out. ~Garrett

  • olivia

    I’m trying to space out some of my dessert-prep before the chaos of actual Christmas party day. Is this the kind of dough you can make a few days in advance and pull out of the freezer day-of, or will I need to make and bake right away? I think these will be a hit at my house. Looks delicious!!

    Shouldn’t be a problem. ~Garrett

  • AnnikaL

    These came out good and not too sweet. I ended up using whole wheat flour, which was pretty grainy.

    I would try again with either pastry flour or keep the graininess and add some red chili flakes.

  • Judy

    These were by far the worst cookies I have ever made. They were terribly bitter. Recipe sounded great. I made them for a true chocoholic. He liked them, but the rest at the dinner party thought they were awful. I did not have trouble with the dough…I’m a cookies maker!

    Will never make these again!

    These cookies aren’t designed to be super sweet but rely on the chocolate and orange for a bittersweetness. A bit more sugar would probably make them right for you. ~Garrett

  • LizD

    I made these yesterday with my 2.5 year old because he likes to make cookies where you ‘cut shapes.’ I was tired of gingerbread and sugar so we tried this. I doubled the recipe and after rolling out one portion, I stuck it in the freezer while I rolled out the next. It was too delicate for his shapes, so I eventually just used a pizza cutter to cut even squares. It worked really well.

    The flavor is great. My husband has decided this is his new favorite (mine is still the butterscotch cookies) since as he said “chocolate & orange is awesome.”

  • heritagepaula

    I bake and found these difficult to work with. Next time I will roll all the dough in a 3″ roll, chill and slice. Just too much work for me otherwise.

  • rose

    I made these without the orange zest and they were very good. I will definitely try them with the hershey’s dark chocolate powder because the color of yours is great. I’m not sure the recipe was meant to come out this way, but my cookies were slightly chocolate-salty, and I really liked that! Next time I might do less salt in the dough and dust them with sea salt or something.

    Anyway, LOVED these cookies. Thanks, Garret!!

  • Flordesombra

    After making the normal cookies, I baked all the leftover little pieces of dough (I could have composed another two cookies with them, but I chose to bake mini-shortbread) because I thought they’d be fantastic with vanilla ice-cream. So I scooped some and heavily sprinkle it with the little cookies. Foodgasm.

  • Yolande

    These were yummy! Stef topped them with a dollop of whipped cream and a fresh orange segment/supreme to dress them up for tea. A hit!

  • Beth

    Thanks for posting this! You can’t go wrong with chocolate and orange!

    I tried using a buttery spread (Smart Balance) instead of real butter, in order to cut down on the fat and calories a little. It made the dough too sticky and soft to roll out, so I just made drop cookies instead, with a heaping teaspoon of dough for each cookie. They came out super soft, with a texture more similar to brownies than to regular shortbread. I think they’re delicious this way, even if they’re less authentic. Maybe I can use real butter the next time I’m baking for a party, so I won’t be tempted to eat quite so many!

  • Erin Feichtinger

    Awesome recipe! I used a heart shaped cookie cutter and I brought them to my office on Monday and my fellow grad students gobbled them all up.

  • citra

    the recipe sounds wonderful! thank you so much and I am looking forward to trying this very soon.

    one minor question:
    12 tablespoons of butter – what is in weight? i would still feel secure with the quantity discrepancy if a recipe calls for 1 or 2 tablespoons of ingredients. but quantity discrepancy of 12 tablespoon might pile to ie 120grams (4oz) for each 10grams discrepancy of a tablespoon. how high is the tablespoon heap of the butter. thank you so much!

    8 tablespoons is 4 ounces, so 12 tablespoons would be 6 ounces. ~Elise

  • Karen Anderson

    I made these cookies for Valentine’s Day. They were great tasting with the chocolate and orange, but WAY too salty for our taste. I will definitely make them again, but cut the salt way, way back.

  • HTC 7 Pro

    I didn’t know the word for it, sorry I’m not a native English speaker. But I meant they were a little moist. Didn’t know what did it, I think a little to low temp. and a little too short in the oven. Already agreed with my girlfriend that we will try it toghether this weekend :) Thanks Garrett!

    Yeeeah, that means they didn’t bake long enough. =) ~Garrett

  • HTC 7 Pro

    I tried to bake these cookies for my girlfriend on Valentinesday, but it turned out to be a bit of a disaster. I think I took them out of the oven too early. They were tasty though, but just a bit muchy. Thanks for the recipe! Will try them another time.

    Not sure I understand what you mean by muchy,,, ~Garrett

  • Liz

    These sound awesome! I’m lazy like GM above and a little itimidated by the rolling pin, so I’ll probably do the sliced log version – looking forward to trying these. Might even try with lemon as my hubby is a huge lemon fan. What is the difference between kosher salt and table salt? I have everything in my cupboard except kosher salt and would like to make them asap! :)

    Kosher salt isn’t quite as chemical in taste and is a coarser grain so when you bite into something you get a good pop of salt. ~Garrett

  • Glenna

    What is orange zest?

    Zest is essentially the peel from a citrus fruit. Specifically, it is the colorful, oil-filled, fragrant outer peel (or exocarp) of the fruit. Together the exocarp and the mesocarp (the white pith and inner peel) make up the peel as a whole. To extract the zest you need to use a citrus zester, the find teeth of a box grater, or a kitchen rasp. You could also use a knife to carefully peel the zest off a citrus fruit and finely chop it. ~Garrett

  • Fleeps

    These cookies look absolutely amazing and I love the picture! I made some with my 2yr old son and he loved it – got a bit messy though…

  • Erin

    Any suggestions for doing this with white chocolate? I don’t eat dark chocolate.

    You cannot make these with white chocolate. ~Garrett

  • Cindy

    I made these today on a whim. I saw the post a few days ago and loved the picture and clicked away to somewhere else on the interweb. But for some odd reason the recipe called me back today which in my case is saying quite a bit because I look at waaaay too many recipes online.
    Anyway, they came out beautifully. They’re very elegant and flakey but still have that heavy duty chocolatey goodness.
    Thanks for the recipe Garrett.

  • Maddy

    Made these with clementines as discussed above. Love them! They are a tad salty despite using usalted butter and 1/2 the amount that was suggested but that hasn’t stopped me from eating them already. Must. save. for. valentine.

    A few people seems to think the salt is on the heavy side. I think Elise and I just enjoy a bit more salt with our chocolate than others do. ;) I reduced the amount in the recipe, but feel free to add more if you feel so inclined. ~Garrett

  • GM

    I made half of these with tangerine rind and half with mint extract. Because I am lazy, I rolled the dough into logs and froze for about 30 minutes, then sliced and baked. So they were a little thicker and softer than the original recipe probably intended, but still quite good. I did find they were a little salty (used unsalted butter and scant 3/4t table salt) but I kind of liked that. We made a chocolate tangerine filling and chocolate mint filling and made these into sandwich cookies.

  • Maddy

    Can I use clementine rind instead of orange? I have everything in my house but that and it’s so cold! I don’t want to go outside, just want cookies!!

    Use any citrus you want. =) ~Garrett

  • Becca

    I made these this evening and they turn out to be wonderful. Rich yet delicate. I had lots of success by popping the rolled out dough into the freezer for 2-3 minutes before transferring them onto a cookie sheet. When I make them again I think I’ll add an extra teaspoon or two of orange zest to get a stronger flavor.

  • Maarte Stewart

    Can the orange zest be replaced with something else, like mint extract or chopped crystallized ginger? I not a fan of orange and chocolate but the recipe sounds delectable. Thanks!

    I would imagine a 1/2 teaspoon of mint extract could be used, or a straight replacement with ground ginger. ~Garrett

  • Story

    These are stunning. The photo looks like it’s a black & white. Where did you get your cookie cutter? How large is it? I’m guessing around 2 inches in diameter; seems like a nice shortbread size.

    The cutter is about 2-inches. I got it at World Market. ~Garrett

  • Sarah B

    Made these yesterday into little hearts. They did break easily at first when they were still warm, but hardened nicely after letting them cool. So adorable and different. Thanks!

  • leek

    Super! Made these today. Definitely do roll the dough between sheets of parchment (or wax) paper and don’t let it get too thin. I didn’t chill after rolling (too impatient) and it was fine. Perfect to bring to folks at work as a little valentine treat.

  • Abby

    Interesting cookie. The chocolate (I used Hershey’s Cocoa Powder–not dark) and orange were wonderful flavors. However, mine turned out super salty, maybe because I used sea salt. Although the salty/sweet was kind of refreshing with the orange, I might cut back the salt next time. Also, most of them broke when I moved them to the rack to finish cooling. If I make them again, I would make them thicker so that they would be presentable. Definitely worth making!

  • Christina

    I would categorize these little cookies as Free-wheeling Hippie Cookies. They are pretty loosey-goosey and difficult to work with. The flavor is great, but the dough for a newbie baker is a challenge. I will try the suggested cooling of the dough for the second batch and maybe roll them a little thicker and see if they will submit to my spatula. Cross fingers.

    If you roll the dough to thin or if you don’t let them cool a bit on the tray before moving them to a wire rack then they may break. After you roll it chill the dough. It will be very easy to work with. ~Garrett

  • Darby

    I think I will make them into heart shapes and pin stripe them with pink and red. Cute for Valentines Day!!