Monday, February 14, 2011

Mexican chocolate shortbread cookies

After a weekend of total decadence -- hello, champagne, lobster macaroni and cheese, steak, and to-die-for chocolate hazelnut cake at Capital Grille -- what's one more day?  After all, it's St. Valentine's Day!  A Hallmark-dominated day filled with flowers, jewelry, fancy dinners, and romantic gestures of all sorts.  Hopefully that doesn't sound too jaded (does it?).  It's not that I'm not against a day filled with expressing love for friends, family, and sweethearts in one's life... it's just that I think every day is a perfect day to share love!  (Gag, I know, I know.)

So what do I see in Cupid's holiday that makes it worth celebrating?  The fact that it encourages everyone everywhere to eat copious amounts of chocolate!  Not just chocolate, but sweets of any kind.  For me, it all started at grade school Valentine's parties.  You'd turn a plain shoebox into a mailbox fit for royalty, plastered with construction paper, stickers, and hearts of every shape and size.   And then the afternoon is spent sifting through cards from classmates to find the ones that have a Hershey's kiss or box of conversation hearts taped to them.  What?  Oh, come on, everyone did it.  At the age of 8, I hardly expect anything more :)

From sugar-craving kids grow adults who believe in real love, rooted in substance and companionship and all of those admirable traits you find in someone's personality.  They're in it for deeper reasons... or are they?  Take a quick look at restaurants' menus for today or what the commercials or grocery store flyers are advertising: chocolate-covered strawberries, boxed chocolates, brownies, molten chocolate lava cakes, chocolate chocolate chocolate!  Point taken, world.

With chocolate on the brain, I knew right away that I wanted to make chocolate shortbread fingers.  I figured I'd be flogged if I didn't show up to work with something sweet for my coworkers.  How could I not deliver on one of the sweetest days of the year?  So, plan I did and the ingredients were ready to go.  Enter Sunday evening when this thought crossed my mind again.  The consummate planner was a little distracted this weekend with finding a wedding dress (I did, hooray!) so last night I was throwing these cookies together.

And, wouldn't you know it, these are the ideal oh-darnit-it's-late-and-I-should've-baked-cookies-hours-ago cookies.  One batch finished in under 30 minutes.  Very few standard ingredients and the only real prep needed was to put out the butter to soften while I finished some other chores.  I whipped up the ingredients, sampled a little of the batter (it's 100% safe -- no eggs!), and into the oven it went.

What comes out as the result of very little work is a flakey little chocolate cookie with a super tender crumb that go down so easily.

I'd say this is a much more mature take on chocolate cookies... not covered with a thick layer of frosting... but I that would imply kids won't love it.  And they totally will.  While the adult who baked this learned a very terrible lesson: put off something until the very last minute and you'll please everyone.  Oops.  Note to self -- don't carry this lesson over to your future marriage.  Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Chocolate Shortbread Fingers
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)
-makes 12 (4-by-1-inch cookies)

A few notes: I halved the original recipe since I was baking for a smaller crowd, but feel free to double it if you like.  If so, use a 13-by-9-inch pan.  After all, the cookies are light and go quickly, so maybe I'll wish I had baked the original portion...

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Butter an 8-by-8-inch pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on two sides; set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda until combined.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Add flour mixture, stir by hand until bulk of dry ingredients are mixed in with wet, and beat on medium speed until just combined.

Using a small offset spatula, evenly spread dough in prepared baking sheet.  Chill in the freezer until dough is firm, about 15 minutes.  Prick dough all over with a fork.  Bake until just firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack.

While still hot, using a large knife to cut shortbread into 4-by-1-inch pieces.  Sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Cool completely in the pan.  Shortbread can be kept in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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