Sunday, December 23, 2012
Wind/seas: Calm, cold - winter! Brrr!
Back at the beginning of this month - perhaps like many of you - I had visions of all the baking I was going to do for Christmas. It really isn't unusual for me to have come up with several kinds of cookies, perhaps some biscotti, a cake or two and even chocolate dipped toffee in time for the holidays.
Alas, this year it just didn't happen. Time took a flying leap and headlong dive somewhere along the line and suddenly it was two days before Christmas and I hadn't baked a thing.
I mean, n o t h i n g.
But then my husband and I were invited to an Xmas Eve dinner. This was my chance to redeem myself and get crackin'. Knowing I wouldn't be able to produce more than one dessert, I quickly narrowed the choices down to my favorite cookie: hazelnut cardamom shortbread dipped in wickedly dark chocolate!
What more can you ask for in one little bite sized morsel?
These cookies are incredibly easy to make and, since the dough benefits from freezing, lend themselves to early preparation (for those of you who are far more organized than myself and actually do those kinds of things!).
Some keys to making good shortbread cookies are starting with cold butter and keeping the dough cold during prep. You want the butter to be room temperature - which is cooler than you think - NOT melted. If it just takes the imprint of your finger, it's ready to be creamed with sugar. Never, ever melt or "soften" butter in the microwave. Melting butterfat breaks the emulsion and re-chilling the butter doesn't get it back. This article in the NYTimes is highly informative and worth the read: Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies that Sing.
2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. confectioners sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract4 c. unbleached, all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt (I use coarsely ground sea salt)
2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom
1 c. chopped, toasted hazelnuts
Dark Chocolate Glaze
About 4 oz. dark baking chocolate (I use Trader Joe's 72 % cocoa Belgian chocolate), chopped.
For the cookies:
1. Cream the butter until fluffy, either by hand or using an electric mixer. I work by hand using a wooden spoon. Add the confectioners sugar and continue to cream until the butter is very light in color. Add the vanilla and combine.
2. Add the toasted, chopped hazelnuts and combine well. I buy them whole and already roasted, but if you have to roast them yourself, make sure to remove as much of the skin as possible. A good way to do this is, once roasted, put the hot hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel (preferably one you don't love), wrap it all up and rub the hazelnuts together. Most of the skin should flake off. Remove the nuts from the towel and discard the skins.
*The batter will be warming up as you work with it, so it's a good idea right about now to pop the bowl in the refrigerator for a few minutes.*
3. Stir or sift together the flour, salt, and ground cardamom in a separate bowl. Spoon the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar/hazelnut mixture a little at a time and combine until the flour is just incorporated. The dough should stick together when squeezed between two fingers.
4. Form the dough into 1" balls using a melon baller or something like it. Depending on how much room you have in your refrigerator (or, if it's winter - like right now here in the Northeast - you can put the dough balls outside), place the cookies on the baking sheets or in a large plastic container with layers of waxed paper and a tight fitting lid. Chill the formed dough until you are ready to bake the cookies. I formed all the dough into balls, layered them into a container, and put them in the cockpit to chill overnight. Then, as I loaded up the baking sheets, I just put the remaining dough balls back in the cockpit until it was time to bake them.
5. The dough doesn't spread, so you can place the cookies about 1 1/2" apart. Bake in a preheated 325° oven for 25 minutes, turning the sheets (and rotating them between racks, if need be) halfway through. The cookies are done when firm and just beginning to color. The bottoms will be a little brown. Place on a rack to cool completely.
For the chocolate glaze:
1. Roughly chop the dark chocolate and place in a Pyrex bowl over a small saucepan with a couple inches of water in the bottom. If you have the luxury of a double boiler, well more power to you! Heat the water to a gentle boil and stir the chocolate with a METAL implement. You do not want to use a wooden spoon as any water in the wood will make the chocolate seize and, well, that's not a pretty thing. Take care not to get any water from steam escaping around the bowl into the melting chocolate, either.
2. You'll want to chop up a handful of roasted hazelnuts to sprinkle on the dipped cookies. Set that aside in a small bowl.
3. Dip the top of each cooled cookie in the melted chocolate, gently shaking of the excess in the bowl. Place the dipped cookies on a work surface or cold baking sheet lined with waxed paper to catch any drips.
4. Sprinkle the cookies with chopped hazelnuts just before the chocolate is set. You'll have to stop dipping cookies partway through in order to do this, then just continue on until all the cookies are dipped and sprinkled.
This recipe makes a large number of cookies - about 60 - so share them with friends and family. They will be very pleased, indeed!