Finished with vanilla sugar, these biscuits make the perfect accompaniment to a cup of English Breakfast or Earl Grey tea.

Finished with vanilla sugar, these biscuits make the perfect accompaniment to a cup of English Breakfast or Earl Grey tea.
© Ben Colvill

Spiced Seville orange shortbread with vanilla sugar

Global News

These light and crumbly biscuits are scented with bitter orange and delicately spiced with cardamon and fennel seed.

Ben Colvill

Crisp, crunchy shortbread is a simple and delicious bake to have in your repertoire, filling your kitchen with their buttery smell and your heart with joy. The basic recipe below can be adapted to whatever flavours demand your attention on the day: simple lemon or cinnamon perhaps, or more exotic stem ginger or lavender. But these spiced bitter orange beauties have a delicate fragrance that matches citrus with a subtle waft of cardamom and anise. Don’t be tempted to scrimp on the salt: shortbread can be bland without it. The vanilla sugar will balance the bake nicely.  

A note on vanilla sugar: you can buy packets of vanilla sugar in grocers and supermarkets, but it’s much better to make your own. Simply keep spent vanilla pods (those from which you have removed the seeds for other purposes) in a jar filled with caster sugar. The fragrance of the pods will slowly and surely infuse the sugar, which can simply be topped up each time you use some in cooking. It’s a wonderful resource to have in the larder and enhances any number of cakes and biscuits. It’s also wonderful sprinkled on your morning pancakes, especially with a spritz of sweet or bitter orange juice (you can go the full, retro Crepe Suzette route too with the addition of Grand Marnier etc. but probably not advisable for breakfast).  

Ingredients (25 servings)
3 cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoons fennel seeds
125 g unsalted butter, softened
75 g caster sugar
Zest of 1 Seville orange
1 teaspoons Seville orange juice
1/4 teaspoons sea salt
180 g plain flour


  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160° fan, 350°F, gas mark 4. Line a large, shallow baking tray with baking parchment. 
  • Crush the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar, discarding outer skins so you are left with the small seeds. Add the fennel seeds and crush everything to a fragrant powder. 
  • Cream together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. This takes a couple of minutes with a stand or hand-held mixer, by which time the mixture should be slightly lighter in colour and more mousse like.
  • With the mixer still going, add the orange zest, crushed spices and salt.
  • Once mixed, and add the flour in three tranches, mixing carefully with a wooden spoon after each addition. Add the orange juice as you go. Make sure the flour is thoroughly incorporated, but do not over work the dough. 
  • Now go in with your hands and form into a rough ball.  Again, be gentle. The dough will seem too crumbly but have faith! This crumbliness will result in the crisp lightness of the finished biscuit. 
  • Place your dough between two sheets of baking parchment and roll out to a thickness of approx. 0.5 cms (thinner will result in a crisper snap, not unpleasing but less like classic shortbread; thicker risks dismal doughiness).
  • Using a small cutter, 5 or 6cm is ideal, cut out your biscuits and transfer lovingly to the waiting baking tray (the biscuits don’t spread, so don’t worry about leaving too much space between them). You are aiming for 25-30 biscuits. Re-form a dough from any scraps and you might manage another couple.
  • Bake for 15 minutes. Check after 12 mins to allow for variations in thickness and oven heat – you are aiming for light golden brown, but don’t worry overly if they are slightly darker at the edge.
  • Remove the oven and sprinkle generously with vanilla sugar whilst still hot.
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool for as long as you can restrain yourself.
  • Scoff wantonly and crumbly-ly, with a cup of steaming tea (and scant regard for correct English).

Ben Colvill

Find out more