This coming Monday is our turn for volunteering during our weekly walk in the downtown area. Since there are also other volunteers, we like to bring a little something down for the workers to snack on. And, if we can, we try to match it up with something happening that month. Of course, Valentine’s Day is this month, so what do we make to go along with Valentine’s Day?
We spent a while thinking about it — we knew it should involve chocolate — and settled on chocolate shortbread. The recipe we normally use makes a 9-inch round shortbread that you cut apart. We didn’t think that would be super-conducive to snacking, not like the Bouchon bakery shortbread that comes in nice, easy-to-handle squares, and we had no idea if the chocolate shortbread recipe we use (from The Joy of Chocolate, by Judith Olney) could be rolled out, or how much it would make. This meant we’d have to do a trial run and possibly have to eat a whole batch of chocolate shortbread ourselves, prior to next Monday. Here at Scratchin’ Central, we’ll make the sacrifice.
We ended up with a combination of two recipes: the one from The Joy of Chocolate and the Bouchon shortbread recipe, and we think it turned out pretty well.
We use Dutch-processed cocoa because it’s generally darker, and, since it’s been treated with an alkali, it’s less bitter. Butter, as always for baking (and all other uses, as far as we’re concerned), is unsalted. No sense in having someone or something deciding how much salt should be in your dishes. That’s for the chef to decide. And, no, imitation vanilla won’t cut it. We know it’s expensive, but it’s worth it.
Procedure in detail:
Sift dry ingredients. If you have a scale, this is pretty easy. Just set your sifter in a bowl, place the set- up on the scale, hit tare, and measure away. Then sift. Otherwise, take the time to measure out everything carefully. By a scant 2 cups of flour, we mean 2 cups of flour with about a tablespoon removed. Once sifted, give everything a good whisking to combine. Remember, sifting fluffs, whisking mixes.
Cream butter. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium until smooth and shiny, about 1 minute. If it stays in clumps, it’s still too cold, so wait a bit and try again.
Add salt and sugar. With the mixer running on medium-low, add the salt and sugar. If need be, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Once the sugar is incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Melt chocolate. Meanwhile, place the chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat it in 30-second increments, stirring in between. When melted, let chocolate cool until it’s just slightly warm.
Add chocolate and vanilla. Add the chocolate and vanilla to the mixer and mix on low until incorporated. The chocolate shouldn’t melt the butter; that’s why we let it cool down. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Add flour mixture. Add the flour mixture in two additions, and mix on low just until it’s incorporated, about 15 to 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated.
Shape. Turn the mixture out onto a clean work surface, and, using your hands and a dough scraper, press and shape the shortbread dough into a block about 5 inches on a side and 1 inch thick. Really try to press it together so it doesn’t crumble later.
Refrigerate. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for about 2 hours. Much longer than that and it’ll be difficult to roll; shorter, and it’ll be sticky.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Adjust the oven racks so one is in the top-third of the oven and the other is in the bottom third. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats (preferred as they insulate the bottom of the shortbread) or parchment.
Roll dough. Place the shortbread dough between two pieces of parchment (or on a lightly-floured surface) and roll it into a 9×9-inch square. If it gets soft while rolling, place it in the refrigerator to chill and stiffen. If need be, trim the block into shape, then cut into thirty-six squares 1 1/2 inches on a side.
Transfer and stencil. Use a bench knife to carefully transfer each square to the prepared baking sheets, placing the shortbread about 1/2 to 3/4 inches apart. They’ll spread a bit, but not too much; however, you do want air to circulate around the edges. Once on the baking sheet, use a stencil of your own design to cover each shortbread, then dust with confectioners’ sugar. Use a heavy coating, since some of the sugar will melt into the shortbread while baking.
Bake. Slide into the oven and bake about 20 minutes, or until firm near the edges, rotating the sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through.
Cool. Let the shortbread cool for five minutes on the baking sheets, the transfer to a rack to cool completely. Once cool, store in an airtight container.
This is a really nice shortbread. The powdered sugar makes for a very smooth texture, and, like most shortbread, this is not very sweet, but is loaded with chocolate flavor. Shaping and cutting this shortbread is bit fussy, but, if you want, you could probably press the dough into an 8×8 pan, then bake and slice it, but we like to take the extra trouble to make the finished product look nice. It’s not that much extra work. Five stars; after all, it’s pretty easy, and it’s something made with chocolate.