Friday, February 6, 2009

Sea Salt and Cocoa Shortbread

Sea Salt and Cocoa Shortbread

Sea Salt and Cocoa Shortbread

I think culinary encouragement goes a long way, especially for avid bakers and food bloggers.

You reach a point where the learning curve plateaus and the people you’re feeding assume everything you create will be delicious and beautifully photographed. And believe me, it’s pretty disappointing when you spend hours preparing something, only to have a good friend pick at their plate and say polite things like “it’s okay” or “it’s pretty good” or “I’m just not that hungry.”

Furthermore, there’s a sort of social detachment that comes with increased culinary ability. Suddenly, people don’t want to share their cooking with you, or they preface edible gifts with statements like “I made you these cookies, but you probably won’t like them” or “here is this pastry, but it’s store-bought so you don’t have to eat it.”

So, it can be pretty tough when everything starts to go wrong. I found it very comforting that a bad week in the kitchen had Molly of Orangette on the verge of tears. Her description of failed dough as “oat-and-brown-sugar hummus” is priceless, and probably familiar to more than one baker.

One of the things I love most about food blogs is that sense of shared baking failure that follows a post like Molly’s. Suddenly everyone has a kind word and a story about flipping pancakes onto the floor, cleaning spilled batter out of the oven, or substituting/omitting ingredients with disastrous results. And, in many cases, people will share a fantastic recipe to compensate for the troublesome one.

I, too, have weeks where all recipes fail, and the possibility of baking something great is utterly squashed. I’ve been testing chocolate recipes for an upcoming presentation, and some of them were just terrible! Luckily, these sea salt and shortbread cookies turned out very well. They’re quite rich, and I think they’re best small, maybe served on a saucer alongside some coffee. The crisp, crumbly texture is addictive.

I roll out the soft dough inside of a gallon-sized plastic bag, chill it, and then cut it into shapes. It’s best to leave the bag open while you do this, so air can escape. Dorie Greenspan gives a good description of this technique in Baking From my Home to Yours, which you can view here.

Chocolate Shortbread with Cacao Nibs and Sea Salt
Adapted from Elizabeth Falkner’s recipe in The Essence of Chocolate

1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup + 2 tbsp cocoa nibs, crushed with a rolling pin
1 tsp fine or coarse sea salt (I used fleur de sel)
12 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature (don’t use cold butter!)
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Sift the flour and cocoa into a small bowl and whisk to combine. In another bowl, combine the nibs and sea salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix in the vanilla. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Add the remaining flour mixture, stopping as necessary to scrape down the bowl. Once incorporated, mix on medium speed for 1-2 minutes, or until well combined. Mix in the nibs and salt. (The dough can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 2 months).

On a lightly floured board or between two pieces of parchment paper, roll the dough into a square ¼ inch thick. Cut into 1 by 2.5 inch rectangles or other desired shape, and place on the prepared pans about 1 inch apart (they will spread a little).

Bake for 15 minutes. It is sometimes difficult to tell when these are done- one of the best indications is the smell of baked cookies in the air. When the cookies are nudged, they shouldn’t feel soft, but the bottoms should seem crisp. Avoid over-baking to avoid a bitter flavor.

Remove from the oven and transfer shortbread to a cooling rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.


aphra_fashamxi said...

me love your recipe and cakes

Irene said...

These sound excellent! There's just something about sea salt and chocolate that produces a beautiful marriage. I was also cracking up at Molly's post - and I had just broken like three plates in the kitchen that week and suffered through something which should have been amazing but was not. It's nice to know that we are all human.

Ceres said...

Gorgeous cookies! I can not wait to make a batch and indulge in the combination of flavors.

MAIA said...

this sounds really good, chocolate and salt go really well together. :D

gorochan said...

This one time I was making pumpkin bread, and it was late at night, and after they'd been in the oven an hour I realized I'd forgotten the eggs. And the baking soda.

sarah the baker yoon said...

loved your post. :) that's why i love food blogs too! and i know what you mean..

but really.. you're photos are almost perfection, i'd be surprised if you didn't have some kind of fixation on being flawless!