Meet the Scottsdale bakers behind The Art of Shortbread cookie company | Phoenix New Times

Scottsdale couple showcases the 'art' of using local flavors in homemade shortbread

Meet the Scottsdale couple turning a passion for local flavors into exceptional shortbread cookies.
The holiday season for The Art of Shortbread owners Art and Kathy Rowland is their busiest time of year.
The holiday season for The Art of Shortbread owners Art and Kathy Rowland is their busiest time of year. Sara Crocker
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For Art and Kathy Rowland, baking cookies mostly centered around what they, their friends and neighbors called “bake day.” At the annual event, they’d all gather at one house before Christmas and bake cookies to share for holiday gifts and festivities.

“We’d have a massive table and we’d bake all day,” Kathy says. “At the end of the day, you bring your gift containers and you would go and fill (them).”

Now, the couple's baking schedule is a bit more complex. They founded The Art of Shortbread in 2021, and have been making more than three dozen flavors of the buttery crisp cookies since – including the holiday season blitz that harkens back to those bake days, but now stretches across several weeks.
click to enlarge Art Rowland takes cookies out of the oven.
Art Rowland bakes shortbread cookies from his Scottsdale home thanks to a cottage foods license.
Sara Crocker

An impulse buy leads to a newfound passion

Art’s obsession with shortbread began after a trip through the Napa Valley more than a decade ago. It started with an impulse purchase at Bouchon Bakery, a French boulangerie from the legendary chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller.

“There was some shortbread at the cash register. I bought it and it was great,” he recalls, sitting at the island in the kitchen of his Scottsdale home, where he bakes for The Art of Shortbread. “I'm like, ‘OK, I'm going to figure out how to make these.’”

From there, he worked to develop and refine a standard recipe, then started experimenting with additional ingredients to flavor the buttery biscuits.

“Shortbread is a basic cookie,” Kathy says. ”It's just flour, sugar, vanilla, butter, some salt … and then you go from there.”

That’s where Art – and his meticulous testing of ideas for new flavors – come in.

“You can build on it,” Art says. “The ‘art’ part is the flavor combinations.”
click to enlarge Cookie bags from The Art of Shortbread.
Throughout the year, The Art of Shortbread makes about three dozen flavors, and has gluten-free options.
Sara Crocker
The cookies the Rowlands make are crisp, tender and burst with flavor, from seasonal apple pie, chocolate orange and candy cane to year-round offerings like cranberry orange and lavender. Art says it’s the ingredients and finding how to best balance them into his shortbread dough that sets the biscuits apart.

He likes to use local ingredients as much as possible, sourcing vanilla from a Valley maker and collaborating with purveyors on special flavors, like a date and pecan shortbread that he bakes specially for Sphinx Date Co. in Scottsdale. Art infuses flavors with fresh zest and juices, and he makes flour from dried apples for the apple pie-flavored cookies.

“The depth of flavor is incredible,” Kathy says.
click to enlarge Kathy Rowland packages cookies.
Kathy Rowland packages cookies in her kitchen. The Art of Shortbread sells its offerings in four stores around Phoenix and Scottsdale, as well as online.
Sara Crocker

A hobby grows into a business

After trying a piece of his shortbread, tasters would tell Art that he could sell it. Before opening the business, he often brushed those compliments off.

“Initially I thought, well, that's nice,” he says. “But then it turned out that (we) really could.”

A friend took a box of cookies to an event and there were rave reviews. It felt a bit different when he learned that strangers were inquiring where they could get more of these cookies.

Realizing they may have a business on their hands, Art and Kathy began setting up The Art of Shortbread. They took another risk and brought samples to Singh Farms and were accepted to be part of its former Saturday farmers market.

Once Kathy retired from medical device sales in 2022, she had time to focus on the business.  She manages the marketing, while Art focuses on baking. Today, cookies from the Art of Shortbread are carried at four retailers around Phoenix and Scottsdale – Cordially, Duck & Decanter, Savale and Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry.

Art continues to work in banking as a credit administrator, making and baking dough before or after work or on the weekends.

“I’m still working full time, so this is a side hustle for me,” Art says.

Though building a shortbread business isn’t exactly how Kathy says she envisioned her retirement – “It wasn’t the plan,” she says with a laugh — it’s something that she and Art have enjoyed and has provided the opportunity to collaborate with others who are passionate about good food, just like them.

“I think that’s fun, incorporating other people’s products into what we’re doing,” Art says.

Though the holiday season is usually their busiest, with customers ordering gift boxes to take to parties or use as end-of-year gifts for clients, Art says the great thing about a shortbread cookie is it can be enjoyed any time of year. They often change up their offerings seasonally, with flavors like peach and s'mores in the summer months. They also offer gluten-free versions of their cookies.

click to enlarge Three shortbread cookies on a plate.
Art Rowland perfected his base shortbread cookie before adding flavors like chocolate, orange, cranberry and candy cane.
Sara Crocker
While the couple has the goods and business acumen to grow the business, they’re enjoying the flexibility they have now and are letting the business evolve organically. And, they like the personalization they can impart with each bake.

“It’s very much an artisan cookie, handmade, hand-cut,” Art says. “That’s part of the appeal… This is not a factory, this is Art and Kathy’s kitchen.”

Kathy agreed.

“We don’t want to lose that,” she says.

The Art of Shortbread

Available online and at multiple locations around the Valley

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