Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Today is one of those wonderful days where we have nowhere that we have to go, nothing we have to do - other than grocery shop for the week - and we can simply relax and enjoy a quiet day at home, listening to the gusty fall wind outside, reading my new Better Homes and Gardens magazine, drinking coffee... and eating these cookies for breakfast.

Well, we might eat some real food, too, at some point, since we have lots of leftovers.  These cookies are dangerously delicious, and I'm glad they got mostly eaten last night, although I'm also glad there are still a few left for me.

Last night was a UFC fight night, which is always at our place since we get the channel for free.  Of course, with 12 guys about to show up at our condo, I decided to make myself scarce for the evening and headed off for a girls night of my own at a friend's house.  But not without leaving them with a few treats (with plenty to take to the girls, too).

You know I love any excuse to cook and bake, especially when other people can enjoy it.  Since they were going to order pizza, I left them with a pan of cheesy garlic knots, ready to pop into the oven until they were puffy and golden, a crock pot of kielbasa sausage and sweet cherry peppers, swimming in a sauce of brown sugar, whole grain mustard and horseradish, and lots and lots of cookies.  I'll have another post for the pumpkin cookies that I made, so let's talk about these chocolate chip shortbread cookies.

Last Father's Day, I made a lemon cream tart for my dad - the first tart I had ever made.  I ended up having to make the crust twice, because the first time I didn't ration the dough very well when pressing it into the pan, and after it came out of the oven, I realized that the sides were not nearly high enough to hold all the filling.  So on my second try, I distributed the dough more carefully, making sure I had enough to come all the way up the sides of the tart pan.  The second crust worked beautifully, and when it was filled with sweetened whipped cream cheese and lemon custard and topped with candied lemon slices, it was one of the best desserts I've ever made.  Jamie and I ended up breaking the first crust into pieces, and eating it like cookies with the leftover filling.

I started thinking what a wonderful cookie that tart dough recipe would make, and it's been in the back of my mind ever since.  When it comes to cookies, I'm a big fan of soft, chewy cookies that are slightly under-baked.  But I would choose this cookie over a gooey chocolate chip cookie.  Although these are not soft and gooey, neither are they hard and crunchy.  The buttery, crumbly shortbread practically melts in your mouth when you bite into one, leaving you with the slightly sweet taste of bittersweet chocolate and butter on your tongue.  After dipping them in chocolate, I added a little sprinkling of crushed toffee to make them look a little fancy, and I think crushed almonds or hazelnuts, either sprinkled on top, or mixed into the dough, would also be amazing.

This is a delicate cookie, so I used mini chocolate chips so as not to overwhelm the cookies with big chunks of chocolate.  And just as the tart dough should be kept very cold and handled as little as possible, the same goes for these cookies.  Keep your ingredients very cold, and once the dough is assembled, it will need to be refrigerated or frozen for a while before slicing.  The cold will prevent the butter from melting into the dough - you want those chunks of butter in the dough, so that as the water evaporates from the butter while the cookies bake, little pockets of steam create that crumbly flaky texture that makes them so good.  The cold temperature will also help the cookies to hold their shape while baking, instead of spreading out.

I ended up freezing mine overnight, since after I mixed up the dough, it was too late at night to bake the cookies, decorate and photograph them, so I finished everything up the next morning.  I actually sliced and baked mine while they were frozen solid, and they came out quite nicely, although the dough was a little difficult to slice through while it was that frozen.  My recommendation would be to refrigerate it overnight, slice them the next morning, and then freeze the slices on the baking sheet for 30 minutes or so, before baking.

You could also try rolling the dough out and cutting it with cookie cutters if you want them shaped something other than round, but because this dough is so crumbly, it could be tricky to roll, which is why I decided on the slice and bake method.

And although I've given a lot of instructions for handling the dough and such, this is actually a very easy cookie to make.  The dough comes together in about 10 minutes, and then you just need a lot of patience waiting for it to chill.  Slice them up, bake, cool, and decorate.  It's as simple as that.  And don't be afraid of the amount of butter called for - shortbread wouldn't be shortbread without butter!  And you'll only eat one or two of these yourself, right?  :)

These would make a lovely addition to anyone's holiday baking, and would be so pretty stacked in clear treat bags and tied with a ribbon to give away as gifts.

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
printable recipe
  • 2 sticks, plus 2 tablespoons (18 tablespoons total), very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds (optional)
  • 2 egg yolks, cold
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon, ice water
  • 4 ounces high-quality, bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or use semi-sweet chocolate if you want it slightly sweeter)
  • 1/4 cup toffee bits

Cut the butter into pieces, place in a bowl, and freeze for 30 minutes.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, powdered sugar and salt.  Sprinkle the frozen butter pieces over the flour, and cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter until mixture is crumbly.  You don't need to incorporate the butter too much - you should have some pieces that are slightly bigger than peas, and the mixture should still be very dry and floury.

At this point, stir the chocolate chips and nuts, if using them, into the flour butter mixture.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and vanilla.  Add the egg vanilla mixture, a little at a time, to the flour mixture, stirring with a fork to moisten.  Now, get your hands in there, working quickly, so that the heat of your hands does not warm the butter too much, and work the egg yolk into the dough for 1 minute.

Sprinkle the ice water, a teaspoon at a time, over the dough, working it in with your fingers as you would with pie dough, just until you are able to gather the dough together.  You may need slightly more or less ice water.

Divide the dough into two equal balls.  On sheets of waxed paper, shape the dough into 2 logs, about 2 inches in diameter, trying to keep them uniform in width the whole length.  (Make sure the dough is pressed together firmly, so that you don't have any pockets of air trapped inside, which will cause cracks in the cookies.)  Roll the logs up in the waxed paper, then roll those up in foil.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When the cookie dough is very cold and firm, unwrap, and slice into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Freeze the cookie slices for 30 minutes.

While the cookie slices are chilling in the freezer, preheat the oven to 350 F.  Bake the cookies on a Silpat baking mat (or on parchment paper) for 12 minutes.  Since they will still appear very pale in color, and they do not rise or spread, you may have a hard time telling if they're done, but you'll see the bottom edges just starting to turn golden brown, which means they're ready.  Cool the cookies for 2 minutes on the silpat, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Melt the bittersweet chocolate according to the directions on the package.  Before dipping the cookies, place the wire cooling racks over a baking sheet to catch any drips.  Dip the cooled cookies in the melted chocolate, so that just one half of the cookie is coated in chocolate, shake off the excess, and place on the wire rack.  Sprinkle with the toffee bits before the chocolate sets.  When you no longer have enough chocolate to dip the cookies in, scrape the remainder of the melted chocolate into a zip-lock bag, snip off the corner, and drizzle the remainder of the cookies with the chocolate.  Place the cookies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to completely set the chocolate.  Once set, they can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

Yields 3 dozen cookies.

Shortbread cookie dough inspired by Dorie Greenspan's recipe for Sweet Tart Dough.