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Have a Heart

It’s V-day week! Somehow, since I have had kids, have been in the habit of making heart shaped cookies every year near Valentine’s Day. Usually, it is some sort of shortbread or sugar cookie recipe. This year, I was inspired and made up a new recipe that is well on its way to becoming a family favorite.

Chocolate Studded Orange Shortbread with Chocolate Sugar Sprinkle.

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Long name, I know, but I couldn’t come up with a fun name, so I went with the super literal version. At least you know what you are getting into when you read the title of the recipe instead of something vague like V-day cookies.

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This cookie starts with 7 ounces of your favorite dark chocolate. Chocolate chips will not really deliver the same amount of chocolate punch here and you also won’t get the chocolate dust that you need for the sprinkle, so it is worth it to dust off your food processor for this one or get out your knife and cutting board. Once the chocolate is chopped finely, it is sifted so that all the “dust” is filtered out and won’t discolor the cookie dough. The little chunks leftover will go in the shortbread and the “dust” is used for the sprinkle.

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Those little tiny chocolate chunks are the secret to delivering this cookie’s chocolate flavor while at the same time maintaining the cookie’s shortbread texture. Save your giant chocolate chunks for your giant chocolate cookies or for times when only straight chocolate will do. In this cookie, I wanted the sandy texture of shortbread to stay uninterrupted by huge chunks of chocolate. The orange zest adds a little brightness and compliments the chocolate nicely.

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If you absolutely must have pink or red for V-day, feel free to use colored sugar instead of the chocolate sugar sprinkle, but the cookie will not be as chocolatey and what would you do with that chocolate “dust”, anyway? Actually, we had a lot of chocolate dust leftover and it is very handy to have around. It’s great sprinkled on top of oatmeal or you can even make your own homemade hot chocolate with it. After all, what’s V-day week without chocolate?

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Chocolate Studded Orange Shortbread with Chocolate Sugar Sprinkle.

Makes about 3 dozen 3 inch cut out cookies. The exact number depends on the size of your cookie cutters.

7 ounces (2 regular sized bars) dark chocolate, pick one that you like to eat
7 ounces (1 cup) granulated sugar
16 ounces (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of 1 large orange
20 ounces (4 cups) unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 ounces (1/4 cup) extra sugar for chocolate sprinkle

Break up the chocolate with your hands and process in the bowl of a food processor for about 10 pulses. The chocolate should be ground into little bits no larger than 1/4 inch. There should be a fair amount of “dust”. Sift the chocolate through a strainer with holes that are not too small. I had about 5 1/2 ounces of chocolate pieces and 1 1/2 ounces of “dust” when I was done sifting. You can also chop the chocolate by hand.

Whisk together the flour, salt, and chocolate pieces in a large bowl.

Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until they are combined and smooth, but not fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract and orange zest.

With the mixer running on low, slowly add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined. In a stand mixer, the dough should clean the sides of the bowl.

Take half of the dough and form into a rough disk with your hands. Roll between two sheets of wax or parchment paper to a 1/4 inch thickness. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze. Repeat with the remaining dough. The dough should be frozen for at least 15-20 minutes or can be held in the freezer for a few months. If the dough is totally frozen, take it out and let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before proceeding.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 or 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Peel off the top sheep of parchment and, using your cookie cutters, cut out as many shapes as you can from the cookie dough. Place them at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.

Stir the extra sugar into the chocolate dust until combined. Sprinkle one teaspoon of chocolate sugar over each cookie on the baking sheet.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until slightly browned at the edges. Cool on the pans. You may reroll and refreeze the remaining dough scraps once or twice more until you’ve used up all the dough.

Enjoy with your valentine.

Interminable

This has been one of those weeks that seem to go on and on and halfway through, one wonders why it isn’t Friday yet because it seems like a whole week’s worth of work and activity have gone by in just three days. When this happens, I know that it is either Christmastime or it’s May. May, in our lives and in the lives of many people we know, is that month when summer is almost here, but not quite. You can see the end of the school year or the beginning of vacation season, but there are still a hundred and one things that need to be done before any of that can arrive. There are final evaluations, tests, recitals, end of year picnics and parties, not to mention the holidays that occur in May.

For some reason, this year seems worse than other years to me, though I know it must not be because neither one of our boys is playing baseball this season, which is always a huge time suck. I think perhaps this has been an especially draining school year for me. As the boys get older and the content of their work increases in difficulty, it requires more mental and emotional energy to juggle it all. And the lessons are not all academic, either. The major lesson this week: time management. It’s a tricky thing to teach because if someone doesn’t want to learn the easy way, the consequences can be quite hard to swallow. But, as a dear friend of mine likes to say, our job is to be a parent, not a friend.

In the meantime, while things on the school front seem to be dragging on and on, I tend to make up for it with some quick, instant gratification projects that I can (sort of) control. Like cookies.

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These are the shortbread cookies from Bouchon Bakery and they are quite good. They are crumbly and have a nice texture and sparkle from the dusting of sugar that they get right before they are baked. I like these better than my usual shortbread recipe because the dough is easier to roll out. These also use real vanilla beans instead of extract and I like the fancy speckly look they have from the vanilla.

So, what’s the lesson here? Maybe it’s when the going gets tough, bake some cookies. Really, everybody could do with a cookie break every once in awhile. A cookie can make all the difference between a day that seems to drag on and a day that is satisfyingly productive.

Never Too Early

We are still in the throes of cookie dough making and baking. Things have slowed down a tad as orders have slowed down. Plus, our freezer is so full of cookie dough that I am almost afraid for my life every time I go to open it. That will get better as orders are delivered and shipped out.

In the meantime, I just had to take a break from cookie dough and make something else that has been on my mind.

Sea Salt Caramels.

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I used this recipe and it worked beautifully. The boys kept saying they were the best caramels they have ever had. We took them around with us while delivering orders yesterday and offered them as samples. Perhaps next year we will have a new section for our fund raiser: candy!

Or maybe not. I’m thinking more along the lines of Christmas presents right now. I know it seems early, but it is coming soon and I like to be prepared. Plus, making these little cut out kits reminds me that Christmas is drawing near.

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Holiday shortbread shapes.

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Gingerbread framily shapes.

We still have a couple of sets for sale. Each box comes with 11-15 cookies and little royal icing mix that includes a disposable piping bag. Secretly, I might be hoping that we don’t sell out so that I can use them, but, really, I can make more. And I probably will anyway. It’s never too early to get ready, right?

Not Your Average Shortbread

Ever since I bought the Baking with Julia book many years ago, I have been eying this recipe for Hungarian shortbread, but I have never made it.  The photos are really enticing.  There’s this jewel-like layer of jam sandwiched between two shortbread layers and it is all showered with a generous coating of powdered sugar.  I have been longing for this shortbread.  So, why have I waited 12 years to make it?  I’ll tell you why.

A pound of butter.  The recipe calls for a pound of butter and makes just one 9 by 12 inch pan of shortbread.  For some reason, that just seemed like an awful lot of butter, even for me, and I do not normally shy away from butter content at all.  In fact, I have been known to go through multiple pounds of butter in a day, but I do a lot of bulk baking and I freeze a lot for future events.

Anyway, excuses aside, I was excited to finally try this recipe because I thought it would be really good.  I mean, can you go wrong with a pound of butter, some flour, egg yolks, and jam?  Also, I was interested in its unusual method of freezing the cookie dough and then grating it into the pan.  Getting the dough together and shaped into tubes that would fit in my food processor was easy enough.

With the food processor, grating was really easy and just took a few seconds.  I wanted two different flavors, so I used two eight inch pans.  The grated dough looks a lot like grated cheese.  After I spread out the bottom layer, I baked the bottoms for 15 minutes first.

After the bottom baked for a bit, I took them out and spread jam on top.  I used jams I made last year: one was a rhubarb jam with candied ginger and the other was a raspberry blueberry jam.  I wanted to stay faithful to the recipe, but, honestly, not everyone likes rhubarb.  My husband and I love it, but my kids, not so much.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be too bothered by this, but we are talking about a pound of butter here and I didn’t think it wise that the husband and I should be “stuck” with the whole pan.   This way, most people would be happy and I wouldn’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe.

Anyway, the shortbread looked and smelled delicious coming out of the oven.  I think I tried to pull out one of them a little early.  That is why one of them appears cracked.  I pushed it back together and had no issues with it.  The bars stayed together just fine.

This time, I planned ahead a little and made sure to make this on a day when a good friend was coming over for a chinwag.  It was great.  Finally, after all these great recipes, I was able to have a little tea party.  These were perfect with tea.  They were a little crunchy, but then they melted in your mouth.  The rhubarb jam was a great, tart contrast and the berry was very yummy as well. All the kids chose berry and they were inhaled at a record pace.  I think the grating of the dough really made this a fluffy shortbread, not the dense, crunchy kind you normally think of when you hear the word shortbread.

The rhubarb version is in the foreground and the berry is in the back.  We had a great time chatting and I was happy to discover that my dear friend loves rhubarb!  Now, clearly, we did not eat them all.  I sent some home with her, but still had over two dozen left, so I took them with me to a workshop over the weekend.  When it was over, the tin was empty.  Everyone loved them.  The husband even said that they were the best shortbread he has ever had.  And now, I’m a little sad that we don’t have any left over.  I think I may have to make some more.

Now that I think about it, a pound of butter is not so bad.  I got 32 servings from my two pans, which makes it about one tablespoon of butter per bar.  That’s better than a piece of pie.  I have a lot more jam in the cupboard.  I wonder what I should try next?  Fig citrus?  Cherry grapefruit?  Apricot butter?  Strawberry Peach?

You can try these yourself.  I highly recommend the food processor for grating–I can only imagine the mess when doing it by hand.  The recipe is posted here and here.

Randomly

  1. I cannot seem to get my thoughts organized today, so here’s a random list of what I thought about saying today.
  2. We made some yummy iced shortbread cookies yesterday for our homeschool coop group. 
  3. While the kids were all eating, my oldest looked around and exclaimed, ” There’s something not right here!  No one’s taking your cookies, Mom!”  It’s nice to know he appreciates me, even when others don’t!
  4. There were only three cookies left when we departed.
  5. My youngest did not partake of any of my cookies and has not wanted any that we brought home.
  6. I was planning to get out all the winter clothing and put away all the stuff the boys have outgrown, but instead only managed to do a couple of loads of laundry because
  7. I decided to bake an apple pie.
  8. I tried a new technique for the pie filling which involved precooking the apples a little to wilt them.
  9. I may have been a little impatient with the filling and put it into the crust when it was still warm.
  10. The crust may have melted.
  11. I started a new history book today and am thinking that this will interfere seriously with my blogging time.
  12. Fair Isle is a little addictive.
  13. It is a gorgeous Fall day outside and I think I need to go for a walk.
  14. I need to walk because I will be having a piece of apple pie with a melted crust later.
  15. I wonder what we’ll have for dinner?  What are you having?