Cheat the Heat. [Crunchy Chocolate Shortbread]

    Here in the desert, the whole goal is to stay cool.  So when your life revolves around cooking and especially baking, (which usually requires use of an oven), you pretty much surrender to sweating...and/or a very large air conditioning bill. (True story that I now have a burn mark on my stomach during the first and last time that I was baking in a sports bra.)  So, with my sleek ingenuity, I decided to go the toaster oven route, which I use as much as humanly possible.  Besides the usual toast and grilled-cheese sandwiches, I use it for everything from toasting nuts to baking cookies.  It heats up so much faster (and therefore cooks faster), puts off less heat while it is cooking, AND hence keeps me cooler. 

One of my favorite uses of the toaster oven is baking cookies or scones.  You really become spoiled though.  Imagine, instead of eating a cookie that was baked maybe a day or two come to expect them hot out of the oven!  For example, you can whip up a batch of dough, store it in the freezer, and then whenever you want, you can bake as few cookies as you like.  You can have freshly baked cookies EVERY NIGHT!  Genius.  I guess I sort of use my toaster oven like the Easy Bake Oven.... Although I just don't have a cake pan small enough just yet.

 I decided to put my tiny little toaster oven to a festive test yesterday by making cookies.  Nothing feels all that holiday-ish around here, especially when Santa's background is always the sand dunes.  While it is actually nice not to be inundated with the holiday bonanza of "BUY this", "BUY that", I thought I at least needed to dig out my one-foot-tall fake tree and bake some cookies! (As if I need an excuse to bake cookies.)

 One of my absolute favorite is chocolate shortbread.  I found this recipe for seriously dark chocolaty bite-sized mini shortbread.  The best part is that they are dusted with a sprinkle of sea salt (as if anyone needs even more of a reason to get addicted to chocolate shortbread).  I should also probably let you in on my most amazing way to eat these.  Whip up a little bowl of vanilla whip cream and dip each cookie in the cream on the way to your mouth. (i.e. cookies and cream, better than you have EVER tasted in your life. Guaranteed.) The problem is that these are so good, you may need to keep your toaster oven on a little longer to make a few more batches.  


Chocolate Crunch Shortbread (adapted from the Wall Street Journal)
Makes: 6 dozen

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ tsp baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (*I used 85%)
½ cup cocoa nibs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon sea salt
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for garnish

1. Sift flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a large bowl.

2. Beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add flour mixture in 3 parts, beating after each addition until just incorporated. Add chocolate, cocoa nibs, vanilla and sea salt, mixing until just combined.

3. Divide dough in three parts. On a lightly floured work surface, roll each piece into a log about 1 inch in diameter. Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm, about 1 hour.  (*These will turn out fairly bite-sized, so if you want them bigger, roll a thicker log)

4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Slice dough logs into rounds about ¼-inch thick. Place rounds on baking sheet about 1inch apart, then sprinkle with a pinch of flaky salt. Bake until cooked through but still soft, about 16 minutes (12 minutes in a toaster oven).  Cookies will harden as they cool.  Remove from oven and let cool.


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