Canestrelli (Italian Egg Yolk Cookies)

Canestrelli cookies are a tender cut out shortbread cookie with an irresistible melt-in-your-mouth texture. Flavored with butter, lemon zest, and vanilla bean, these Italian Egg Yolk Cookies are the perfect shortbread for afternoon tea or holiday cookie trays.

This post is sponsored by the Ohio Poultry Association. As always, all opinions are my own.

Canestrelli cookies on a blue flowered plate

Every year when the holidays roll around, I don’t think it’s possible for me to find another recipe to add to my ever-growing collection of favorites. And yet, each year I find a few new gems that earn their spot on the list.

This year, it was Canestrelli, a special Italian shortbread cookie cut into flower shapes and dusted with powdered sugar.

These little three bite cookies are impossible to pass up! Every time I wandered past the container, I had to grab one or two.

They’re a not-too-sweet cookie that’s perfect with a morning cup of coffee or afternoon tea. And of course, they’re a wonderful addition to holiday cookie trays and gift packages.

Italian Egg Yolk Cookies without powdered sugar

What is shortbread?

Traditional shortbread is a simple, rich butter cookie usually made with 2 parts butter, 1 part sugar, and 1 part flour.

While the ingredients for shortbread sound similar to that of homemade pie crust or even sugar cookies, they’re actually quite different.

Pie crust uses ice cold butter and a pastry blender to create flaky layers.

However, with shortbread, we’re not going for flaky. Shortbread is known for its tender, sandy crumb and melt-in-your-mouth buttery texture. This is best accomplished by using room temperature butter and a mixer to blend ingredients.

Canestrelli cookie dough rolled and cut with flower cookie cutter

Canestrelli: A Unique Italian Shortbread

Of course, there are dozens of variations on classic shortbread, but this Italian shortbread is one of my favorites. Like most shortbreads, the butter is the star of  the show in this canestrelli recipe, but a couple secret ingredients set this recipe apart.

  1. Cornstarch– Using cornstarch along with flour makes this shortbread dough extra tender.
  2. Hard Boiled Egg Yolks– That’s right, Italian Canestrelli incorporates hard boiled egg yolks into the dough! It may sound strange, but the egg yolk is the key to this exceptionally light, crumbly shortbread.
  3. Lemon Zest and Vanilla Bean– These simple flavor agents give this cookie a subtle aroma and flavor that keeps people coming back for more!

Canestrelli are traditionally rolled and cut into flower shapes with a small hole in the middle. After the cookies are baked and cooled, they’re dusted with powdered sugar for a lovely, irresistibly pretty cookie.

Canestrelli flower cookies on a baking sheet

How to Make Canestrelli

  1. Hard boil 3 large eggs. I like this method for hard boiling eggs, but if you have an air fryer, these Air Fryer Hard Boiled Eggs are the way to go. Once the eggs have cooled in the ice water bath, peel them, then remove the yolks and set aside. Refrigerate the whites for another use.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 11 Tablespoons (2/3 cup) of unsalted butter and 2/3 cup powdered sugar until well combined, scraping the bowl as necessary.
  3. Beat in the pods of 1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the zest of 1 lemon.
  4. Place a fine mesh strainer over the mixing bowl. Add the hard boiled egg yolks and use a spoon to push the yolk  through the strainer, creating a fine dusting of yolks. Beat the yolks into the butter mixture on low speed.
  5. Add 2/3 cup cornstarch and 1 1/4 cups flour to the bowl. Beat on low speed until a crumbly dough begins to form. The dough does not need to be cohesive, but all the powdery ingredients should be incorporated.
    • Tip: For the most accurate results, all dry ingredients should be measured using the spoon and level method, where the ingredient is spooned into the measuring cup not scooped from a container.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop or pastry mat and gently knead until the dough forms a ball. Press the ball down with the palm of your hand into a thick disk, then wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  7. Lightly flour a surface, then roll the dough to just under 1/2 inch thick. Cut with flower cookie cutters or whatever shape you desire. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 14-17 minutes, or until firm, but not browned.
    • Tip: I absolutely adore this set of cookie cutters. They are so affordable, work great for flower cookies, and come with so many shapes and sizes, I was able to donate some to my son’s play-doh collection.
    • Tip: To avoid sticking, dip the cookie cutter in flour after every few cuts. For the center hole, I like to use a piping tip or sturdy straw.

Can I make shortbread ahead of time?

YES! This Italian shortbread is a great recipe to make ahead of time.

The hardboiled eggs can be cooked, cooled, and stored in their shells in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. I love making a big batch for egg salad and saving a few for canestrelli!

Shortbread dough can also be made in advance. Feel free to mix up the dough, then wrap it in saran wrap and store in the fridge for up to 3 days. The dough may need to warm for 10 minutes on the counter before rolling.

Baked shortbread will keep for up to a week. Baked canestrelli should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Powdered sugar sprinkled on canestrelli cookies

Can shortbread be frozen?

Yes! I recommend freezing the cookies after they’ve been baked for the best results. (Check out my How to guide to freezing cookies for all my tips and tricks).  I layer them in a plastic bag with parchment paper between each layer, then freeze them laying flat. Frozen shortbread will last for up to 3 months. Defrost frozen shortbread at room temperature.

Italian Egg Yolk Cookies on a cooling rackAll About Eggs

Hard boiled eggs are the key to this shortbread, but eggs are also an indispensable ingredient in all of my holiday (and year-long) baking! Eggs add moisture, color, flavor, and nutritional value to recipes.

An extra egg yolk is the key to my ultimate Bakery Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Lemon Sandwich Cookies, and the BEST Chocolate Bundt Cake. They also form the base of these simple, silky Homemade Egg Noodles.

If you’re buying eggs this holiday season, there’s a good chance they come from a farm right here in Ohio. Ohio is the largest egg farming state in the country, and they’re committed to providing safe, healthy, and affordable eggs for consumers, while protecting the environment for future generations.

Through participation in both the Ohio Egg Quality Assurance Program and United Egg Producers Certified Animal Care Program, Ohio egg farmers place the highest priority on egg safety and the comfort, health, and safety of their chickens. For more information about egg farming, nutrition, and safety, visit OhioEggs.com and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube.

Canestrelli cookies on a plate with coffee and jam

More Christmas Cookie Recipes

Need more inspiration for your Christmas cookie trays? Try these recipes:

Canestrelli cookies on a blue flowered plate

Italian Canestrelli Cookies

Yield: 25-30 cookies
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

These Canestrelli shortbread cookies get their tender, melt in your mouth texture from the addition of hard boiled egg yolks! These buttery shortbread cookies are perfect alongside a cup of coffee or on a holiday cookie tray.

Ingredients

  • 3 hard boiled egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup (11 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • Seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cornstarch, spooned and leveled
  • 1 1/4 cup flour, spooned and leveled
  • Powdered sugar, for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and powdered sugar until well combined, scraping the bowl as necessary.
  2. Beat in the vanilla bean, salt, and lemon zest.
  3. Place a fine mesh strainer over the mixing bowl. Add the hard boiled egg yolks and use a spoon to push the yolk  through the strainer, creating a fine dusting of yolks. Beat the yolks into the butter mixture on low speed.
  4. Add cornstarch and flour to the bowl. Beat on low speed until a crumbly dough begins to form. The dough does not need to be cohesive, but all the powdery ingredients should be incorporated.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop or pastry mat and gently knead until the dough forms a ball. Press the ball down with the palm of your hand into a thick disk, then wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  6. Lightly flour a surface, then roll the dough to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut with flower cookie cutters or whatever shape you desire. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 14-17 minutes, or until firm, but not browned.

Notes

Tip: To avoid sticking when cutting out the cookies, dip the cookie cutter in flour after every few cuts. For the center hole, I like to use a piping tip or sturdy straw.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container for about 1 week. Baked cookies can be frozen up to 1 month.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 30 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 49Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 39mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 0gSugar: 3gProtein: 1g

Please note nutritional information for my recipes is calculated by a third party service and provided as a courtesy to my readers. For the most accurate calculation, I always recommend running the numbers yourself with the specific products you use.

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