For some reason, shortbread seems to be my Achilles Heel of baking. They never end up the way I expect. Maybe my experiences with shortbread are too tainted by store bought packages of the stuff, crispy and sweet, but very, very firm, due to the fact that they have to be packaged and sent all over the world for consumption. Still, whenever I sit down to make shortbread, I’ve always had a really rough time getting them to come out right, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because they require more steps and gentle care than I’m used to, compared to the rough and tumble (not to mention very forgiving) drop cookie dough. This is why, once again, I’ve turned to Carole Walter and her expertise.
Cookie bakers, if you have not yet gone out and purchased Carole’s book, you are missing out! Sure, everyone on the internet is talking about Dorie Greenspan – and I love her too. I have her raved-about dessert book, and she’s wonderful. But when it comes to cookies, Carole Walter is the woman in charge.
I’ve been known to make shortcuts when it comes to baking. I don’t often sift my dry ingredients, nor do I add eggs “one at a time” as instructed. Since I’ve failed a few times at shortbread, I followed instructions to the letter.
Photograph courtesy of Duane Winfield
Chocolate Shortbread Nuggets
adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1/2 cup rice flour, spooned in and leveled
1/2 cup strained Dutch-processed cocoa powder, spooned in and leveled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
2/3 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sparkling white sugar
4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
Position shelf in the center of the oven. Heat the oven to 300-degrees F. Cut a 15 inch square of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Invert a 9-inch square baking pan and center the foil over the pan, pressing it across the bottom and down the sides. Remove the foil, turn the pan right side up and place the foil shell in the pan, shaping it smoothly across the bottom and snugly against the sides.
This foil trick is one Carole uses with most of her recipes and it is handy. Funny how much this helps – wrangling a piece of foil into a square container is often a clumsy undertaking, but this ensures that your foil is formed perfectly and won’t mar the edges of your shortbread during the baking process.
Strain the flour, rice flour, cocoa and salt together three times. Set aside.
I really did do this straining part, and not only because I was paranoid that I was going to turn out another horrid batch of shortbread. In this case, I wanted to make sure the cocoa was sifted, because baking cocoa has a nasty habit of containing little lumps that don’t smooth out no matter how hard you mix – which brings me to the next reason I strained, and that’s because with this batter you cannot over mix, or you’ll ruin it. The little balls of hard stuff that couldn’t be strained through were tossed out. As an aside, I did not use a sifter for this. I used a hand held strainer that is used to strain seeds from jam and berries, etc. It worked like a charm, if you aren’t counting the part where I accidentally flung a bit of powder across the counter. Other than that, it was great.
Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (I only have a hand held with beaters and it was fine) and mix on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add sugar gradually, taking about 1 minute, then mix for 1 minute longer, scraping the side of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
I didn’t take pictures of this because you know what butter and sugar look like when mixed. Unless a vision of Jesus suddenly appears at the bottom of the bowl (and I hope not, because I’d like to think he’s got better gigs) then there’s really no reason to photograph that and stick it up here.
Transfer the mixture to a wide, wooden bowl for ease of mixing.
Okay, this was not something I did. Instead, I used my big, green bowl that you’ve seen a million times before, and it was large enough that I didn’t have to transfer anything. There’s nothing I hate more than using a million different bowls for no reason, when I can keep my messy dishes down to a minimum.
Using a wooden spoon, cut half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until it is almost incorporated. Work in the remaining dry ingredients by hand, adding in five or six additions.
Um okay, I did take another shortcut. I did mix all of this together by my hand held mixer, but not for very long. I added in two portions, then removed the mixer and did the rest with a wooden spoon.
Gently knead the mixture just until a smooth dough is formed. Be careful as to not overwork the dough, as this will result in a tough cookie.
Okay so as I said, I used my hand held mixer then used the spoon for the rest of it. I didn’t mix for very long at all, just enough to smoosh the dry ingredients into the rest of the dough – and that was just barely. As soon as the dry stuff was smooshed in with a single press to each dry area, I stopped touching it just in case.
Hopefully the above makes sense and, in context, it doesn’t sound like I’m some sort of sex offender.
Press the dough evenly into the pan, using a flat-bottomed glass wrapped in plastic. Be sure the dough is pushed into the corners. Test for evenness by inserting a toothpick or point of a knife randomly into the dough. Clean the sides of the pan by inserting the flat side of a metal scraper, small metal spatula, or plastic pastry corne in between the dough and the sides of the pan.
I didn’t have plastic, so I covered the pan with a piece of parchment paper, then I used a flat-bottomed glass to even everything out. To separate the edges from the foil, I used a knife. As much as I was worried about the dough being messy and fussy to separate from ungreased foil, it was actually fine. I had no problems.
Bake for 50 – 55 minutes (I used an 8×8 inch pan, so I baked mine for the full 55) or until set on top. Take out and let rest for 5 minutes. Using a dough scraper, cut straight down through the dough at about 1-inch intervals, making eight strips. Give the pan a quarter turn and cut four more strips at 2-inch intervals. (I was worried, so I followed this methodology to the letter, with success!) Sprinkle with the sparkling white sugar. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Have a cookie sheet without sides ready. Using the foil as an aid (aka the foil sling we’ve been talking about a lot lately), lift the shortbread from the pan and place it on the cookie sheet. Pull the aluminum foil so it releases from the sides of the shortbread, wrapping the larger sides of the foil under the pan to prevent it from sliding. Wrap loose edges of the foil around the sides of the cookie sheet, smoothing the foil as best as you can. Cut through the shortbread again, and using a spatula, spread them slightly apart.
Return to the oven for 10 more minutes to crisp and dry the cookies. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 – 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
For garnish, stir together the melted chocolate and vegetable oil. While the cookies are still tepid, dip each cookie into the chocolate mixture to a depth of 3/4 inch. Place on a cooling rack and allow to stand until the chocolate sets.
Here’s a shot of my mostly-uniform lovelies:
Okay, so you know I’m not great at Geometry; it’s a fact I have never hidden from you. I’m just thrilled I got the texture and taste right – next time I’ll work a little harder on making them perfect rectangles.
Store in an airtight container, layered between strips of wax paper, for up to 3 weeks. These cookies may be frozen.
The texture is light and crispy and a deep, dark chocolate flavor, much better than the stuff you get in the store. The chocolate taste is amazing and I’m very excited to be able to give these as gifts for the holiday season.