Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dark Chocolate Chip Shortbread

I don't know what happened. I woke up this morning and it was December 20. According to my math, that means Christmas is a speedy five days away, but see, the last thing I remember is Thanksgiving.

Oh, sure, that isn't entirely true. I have actually been quite preoccupied lately, mostly with researching homeschool curriculums (because clearly, I have lost my mind), but the honest truth is that I have no idea what happened to the month of December. And I started the month with the best of intentions, of course. I was going to make my Christmas list, get The Boy Wonder to narrow down his litany of wants, decorate the tree, arrange the creche, plan the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus, and prepare a grocery list well in advance so I wouldn't have to take down any old ladies who tried to fight me for the last bag of pecans.

I should have known better. I am nothing like Martha Stewart, and even though I tend to live by my to-do list when it comes to absolutely everything else in life, Christmas still comes as a shock every single year.

Now that I think about it, my 2009 New Year's Resolution is to be prepared for next Christmas, even if it takes me all year to get it right. The only thing I ask of you is that you remind me of this goal late next November because I am genetically incapable of planning for Christmas until well after Thanksgiving. Surely if I get started by November 30 instead of December 20...

In exchange for your help in keeping me on task next year, I have an early Christmas present for you. In a most roundabout way, I stumbled upon the most wonderful cookie recipe, one that is durable enough to withstand some travel, and, best of all, uses ingredients that most people keep on hand anyway. There is no fancy decorating involved, nor any desperate cookie-cutter antics, yet the little beauties still look like you went to a bit of trouble to dress them up. And a single batch makes enough for three gift tins/boxes/baskets/buckets/whatever. I'm telling you, this is the perfect cookie.

Oh, and did I mention that it uses a pound of butter? Oh, yeah. This isn't a health food or anything. It is rich and it is decadent and it tastes just like a holiday should. Like butter. And chocolate.

Matter of fact, that is what everything should taste like.

These cookies are one of the best things that happened to me in the past week. Last Friday, true to form, I waited until the last minute to attempt a new complicated candy recipe to use as gifts for a gathering the very next morning. Sometime late in the day, I realized I had made a gross miscalculation in timing between steps and the candy recipe just wasn't going to be of adequate caliber for gifting (though The Carnivore was happy to eat the rejects). After some brief histrionics, I took a quick inventory of the pantry and refrigerator and madly started flipping through recipes I had clipped from the holiday issues of the various food magazines I read. And of all the unlikely places, it was in the December issue of Vegetarian Times that I discovered what I will now refer to as The Perfect Cookie Recipe.

Have you ever tried the recipe I use for Toffee Bars? This is very similar in taste, but with a sturdier, crispier, more bar-cookie-than-brownie texture, if you know what I mean.

If you aren't going to take my word for it and try these right away, at least print the recipe out and stick it to the refrigerator. You just might need it at the last minute.


DARK CHOCOLATE CHIP SHORTBREAD (adapted from Vegetarian Times, makes 60 cookies)
  • 3 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 lb unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup real 100% maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate chips (like Ghirardelli), divided
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.
  2. In an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla extract for 4 minutes (until light and fluffy).
  3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir just until combined.
  4. Stir in 1/2 cup of the chopped chocolate chips.
  5. Transfer dough to an ungreased 15x11-inch jelly-roll pan (or another heavy-duty, rimmed cookie sheet of the same size). Press dough smooth with fingers (this took a few minutes, until my fingers had warmed the dough enough to obey my commands). Prick all over with a fork (in as haphazardly of a fashion as you desire - the little holes will not show).
  6. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes, until edges just begin to brown and dough looks slightly firm.
  7. Remove pan from oven and immediately, using a thin knife (a steak knife worked really well), cut shortbread into approximately 3x1-inch pieces in pan: first cut four 3-inch rows lengthwise; then cut 1-inch pieces crosswise.
  8. Allow shortbread to cool completely in pan.
  9. Melt remaining 1 cup chopped chocolate chips (in a double boiler on low heat or in a microwave for about a minute).
  10. Spread melted chocolate onto cooled shortbread, spreading just to the edges. To do this, use a thin plastic spatula and go back and forth a few times in each direction. I swore there wasn't enough chocolate to cover the whole pan, but after spreading for a few minutes, it was just right.
  11. Refrigerate the shortbread for 15 to 20 minutes (or overnight, if you're so inclined) to allow chocolate topping to set completely.
  12. Break the cookies apart and serve (or pack into gift containers, reserving a few for the hard-working cook).