Sunday, February 17, 2013

Salt-and-Pepper Cocoa Shortbread Cookies

I’ve been very excited to share these Salt-and-Pepper Cocoa Shortbread Cookies with you. I meant to post this in time for Valentine’s Day, knowing it would be a fabulous treat to make for your loved ones. However, I was up to my eyeballs making Valentine’s truffles for all of my CocoaRoar customers, so I’m only getting around to this now. I’m sorry. But these cookies are so marvelous that I think you’ll want to make them year-round anyway.

I have a confession to make. By the time I got through making the recipe to photograph it for the blog, there almost weren’t any cookies left to show for my efforts. I don’t mean that I snarfed most of the cookies as soon as they came out of the oven. They nearly didn’t get BAKED, for the raw dough was that good.

(Another confession: this is certainly not the first time I’ve had this happen with a batch of shortbread cookie dough. I admit I have a problem.) 

Buttery with a fine sandy texture, these tender cookies melt in your mouth. Velvety cocoa makes these shortbreads dark as midnight while a generous hit of sea salt intensifies the chocolate flavor, creating the ideal juxtaposition of salty-and-sweet. And don’t be shy about adding the freshly ground pepper, for it adds a beguiling flavor note that makes your taste buds sit up and pay attention. 

I guess this isn’t surprising, considering that this inspired recipe is from Dorie Greenspan in her masterful book, Baking: From My Home To Yours. I trust her implicitly when comes to all things baking-related, and this recipe is no exception. If you can refrain from eating the raw dough, waiting long enough to properly chill the logs of cookie dough before slicing them into rounds and baking them, you will be rewarded with the perfect shortbread cookie. 

Now, if you want to REALLY take these over the top, I suggest you whip up a little mascarpone and serve it alongside your cocoa shortbreads. The inspiration for this came from a dessert I’d had at Alta Strada, a terrific Italian restaurant up at Foxwoods where I’d eaten after playing a concert with HCJ a few weeks ago. I love my studies in black-and-white, culinary or otherwise, but I have to say that this combination is truly ridiculous. 

Happy belated Valentine’s Day to you all! 

One Year Ago: Arugula-Stuffed Baked Potatoes
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Malt Ice Cream
Three Years Ago: Lavender Pavlova, Affogato
Four Years Ago: Cinematic Cocktails

Adapted from a recipe in Baking: From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan

The key to making perfectly sandy shortbread cookies is not to over-beat the butter, which will add too much air into the dough and make the cookies puff up as they bake and then sink as they cool. Also, be very gentle when blending in the flour, mixing it only till it is just incorporated into the dough. For a decadent dessert, I encourage you to try these cookies along with a little whipped mascarpone for dipping, as pictured above. Try it, you won’t be sorry! 

1-½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk
¾ teaspoon fleur de sel or ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sift the flour and cocoa together.

Beat the butter till soft with a hand mixer on medium-low speed, or use the paddle attachment for a stand mixer. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth and satiny. Add the egg yolk, salt, pepper and vanilla and continue to beat till well incorporated and smooth. Add the flour-cocoa mixture in 3 additions, beating on low speed only until just blended in.

Turn the dough onto a work surface and divide it in two. Roll each half into a log that is about 6 inches long and 1 inch thick. It’s easy to do this by patting the dough into a rectangle and then rolling it into a log, rolling it gently back and forth to stretch it out into its shape and making sure that the log is solid—a hollow log will create holes in the center of your cookies. Wrap the cookie logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. 

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F. Position the baking racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Slice the logs into ½-inch-thick rounds using a thin-bladed knife. Place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving at least an inch between the cookies. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, switching the baking sheets from front-to-back and top-to-bottom halfway through the baking time so that the cookies bake evenly.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Let them cool to room temperature before eating. Makes about 24 cookies.

Note: These dough logs can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months. If you freeze the logs, you can slice and bake the rounds straight from the freezer, just adding a few minutes to the baking time.

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