“Have you tried Alison Roman’s salted butter chocolate chunk shortbread cookie?”
Ellen and I were discussing shortbread cookies when she asked the question. I actually had it on my list of recipes to try, but I hadn’t tried them yet. She hadn’t tried them either, but she didn’t see what all the fuss was about. And there has been a lot of fuss over these cookies in baking circles. I’m always looking for good shortbread recipes because I find those to be the best cookies to ship. Fast forward a week and Ellen is texting me as she recovers from foot surgery. A friend had made the cookies and dropped some off for her convalescence. “They are gooooood.” Okay, I trust Ellen’s tastes, so I set about making a batch to see what was what.
we took some backcountry skiing, because that’s what we do
The first batch I baked was very frustrating. The weights and volume measurements in the recipe didn’t really jive and had discrepancies by as much as 15%. I went with weights, because that’s far more accurate and easier to troubleshoot. The cookies spread too much and too quickly once they went into the oven, which could very well be my altitude (8500 feet above sea level). While the texture and flavor were good, the appearance was unacceptable (for my standards). Even baking the second half of that batch at a lower temperature and for longer resulted in more spreading than I was willing to tolerate, although slightly less. Research on the internet revealed that the New York Times version used more flour. I figured it was worth another shot.
vanilla, butter, flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, egg, turbinado sugar, flake sea salt, chunk chocolate
beat together cold butter, sugars, and vanilla
mix in flour until just combined
add the chocolate
Beating the cold butter is best left to the power of a stand mixer. If using a hand mixer, allow the butter to soften at room temperature lest you want to add more complications to your baking project. The dough is rather crumbly, but if you press it together between your fingers, it should hold together. You’re supposed to form two cylindrical logs from this cookie dough, presumably by shaping it in plastic wrap. This was something Ellen and I had touched on during our shortbread discussion. I generally prefer to cut my shortbreads into nice neat squares or rectangles. It’s a trick I learned years ago from Deb who picked it up from Dorie. The reason I prefer quadrilateral shortbreads to circular shortbreads is because it is really hard to achieve a proper circle. Usually you wind up with some misshapen thing halfway between an oblate circle and a polygon. But I MacGyvered a way to get properly round cookies using some wax paper, ring molds, and a muddler.
line a ring mold with a sleeve of wax paper
press a little dough into the mold with the muddler
stack more ring molds as needed
This method not only produces a proper cylinder of cookie dough, but by packing it in with a muddler, you eliminate a lot of the internal gaps and cracks inherent in hand-forming the log. When the log is the desired length, gently remove the ring molds from the wax paper-wrapped dough and chill the dough for 2 hours in the refrigerator. Sometimes they can stick if any dough has leaked through the seams of the wax paper. If you can’t get the dough out, don’t pull on the dough itself – you’ll likely deform it. Just wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 2 hours and remove the ring when the dough is chilled solid.
After chilling, unwrap your dough logs and brush the long sides with egg wash. Roll the logs in the demerara or turbinado sugar so that all of the egg wash is coated with sugar. I found rolling didn’t quite do the job, so I sprinkled the sugar over the length of the dough log to make sure all of the egg-washed parts were covered. Slicing the dough with a serrated knife makes it easier to saw through chunks of chocolate. Even so, expect parts of the cookie dough to crumble off. Not to worry, just mash them onto the cookie disc – they adhere just fine.
remove the ring molds and chill the dough
brush chilled dough with egg wash
roll the egg-washed sides in demerara or turbinado sugar
slice with a serrated knife
Arrange the dough slices on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Sprinkle the tops with some flake sea salt and gently press them into the dough. If you work quickly, the dough should remain quite firm and chilled and should be ready for the oven. If your kitchen is really warm and the dough has been out for a while, it may be quite soft. In that case, pop the baking sheets into the freezer for ten or so minutes to firm up the dough before baking.
sprinkle sea salt on the cookies
let baked cookies cool for a minute or two on the baking sheet
remove to a cooling rack
As I said on Instagram, I am highly skeptical of fads like this cookie, which is why I’m probably the last person on the planet to have attempted these shortbreads. They are good with their salted buttery crumb that has a nice soft snap when you take a bite. The outer layer of crunchy sugar is just the right hit of sweet to offset the bitter, earthy chocolate and zing of flake salt. These are solidly good cookies, but are more of a pain in the ass to make than most shortbreads, so just be sure that you’re making them for the right people. All of my recipients have raved about them, so there’s that.
chunks and shards of chocolate throughout
these make lovely gifts
crunchy, buttery, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth
1 cup + 2 tbsps (9 oz. or 255g) salted butter, cold*, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
2 1/2 (326g) cups all-purpose flour**
6 oz (170g) dark chocolate, cut into chunks
1 egg, beaten
demerara or turbinado sugar
flake sea salt like Maldon or Murray River
* Note: If using a hand mixer to beat the butter, use softened or room-temperature butter instead of cold butter.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugars, and vanilla together until light and fluffy – about 3-5 minutes. Mix in the flour until just combined, then add the chocolate and mix together. The dough will be crumbly. Make 2 logs about 2 to 2 1/4-inches in diameter. You can roll these logs in plastic wrap or the trick I use for well-packed dough is to slip a sleeve of wax paper into a 2-inch ring mold (the wax paper should line the entire mold) and pack the dough into the mold with a muddler. Stack more ring molds on top as needed. When the dough is packed, gently slide the wax paper-wrapped cylinder of dough out of the ring mold (don’t twist the dough as it is soft and will deform). Wrap the dough and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Remove the dough from the wrapping and brush the length of the dough log with egg wash. Roll the egg-washed log in the demerara or turbinado sugar. I sprinkle more over the dough to completely coat the log. Using a serrated knife, gently, but firmly, saw 1/2-inch slices of dough. Set them on a parchment-lined baking sheet a few inches apart. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with flake sea salt. Bake for 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheet(s) by 180° at 9 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets. Remove to cooling rack. Makes 24 cookies.
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