Wednesday, April 7, 2010


My friend Randy posted a blog on this web site last year while we were in Paris. About two months ago, he decided to post again. Which would be precisely why he uses my blog and not his own. Ya gotta post more than twice a year. Skimpy as my posting has been lately, I do manage at least one a month. (Which is not easy when your taking algebra. It's like doing Sunday's New York times crossword puzzle with no eraser while having a hangover.) But this post is not about me, but about Randy. Who then enlisted Mama Watts, because, let's face it Randy doesn't cook. Rodney however is a wonderful and intuitive cook. His Fried Chicken Salad is to die for, and I hear he makes a mean cake, but of course I haven't tasted any, so as far as I am concerned, it's just a rumor. 

I read the recipe while adding the text and I must say I haven't been able to get these cookies out of my mind. I must make them tonight.  Once you read this recipe, you will completely understand the plight of those greedy children Hansel and Gretel and certainly understand why that witch wouldn't share. But really, with cookies like these, who would want to eat a couple of dirty, ill behaved children?

 One of my "Spiritual Advisors" cautioned me about this title.  He said that "no one knows who Hansel and Gretel are anymore."  That thought shocked me so much I felt like I was about to twirl down the driveway counter-clockwise in my car on a snowy night.  But then I thought of Mama Watt's latest batch of cookies.  I took command of the wheel and landed safely at the bottom of my driveway.  I rushed upstairs dreaming of cookies fit for an old witch to use for luring Hansel and Gretel to their doom.

In case my spiritual adviser is right, and you don't actually know who Hansel and Gretel are, it's time to find out with a quick read in Tale of Hansel and Gretel (Gawd).  In another blog I will explain how to cook what they actually ate the NIGHT BEFORE they were left alone in the forest by their evil step-mother.  Amazingly, I even have information, on what the mean, old witch might have requested as her final meal from the DEATH HOUSE in Sing Sing, New York had she lived to face her heinous crimes.  But more on that later.  These cookies will knock your socks off, but that is all.  Believe me, nothing like anything that happened to Hansel  and Gretel will happen to you if you make these cookies.

But you know,  Gretel kind of asked for it.  In the version I read, she cracked out an entire candy window glass pane and was caught eating it.  Some people could consider than entrapment today.  Hansel was content with just a few decorative details.  He was a good boy.  My grandmother knew them both when they were all small children.  She passed down little known details about the both of them that puts a whole new light on this beloved fable.  Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to disclose this material at this time.

Hansel today, a very good boy.

I hate to share this recipe because it's so very special and I've loved having it as mine, mine, and only mine.  But I've known Pam for half my life.  I love her and want to support her in any way I can (plus she's knows where I've buried all the bodies over the years and it’s better to be safe than sorry).  This elegant shortbread will “make” your reputation as a desert chef.  It's embarrassingly simple.  It's quick to make and fool proof as long as you remember to handle the dough as little as possible.  For you pie makers out there, think pie dough.  Just as with pie dough, the less you handle this dough the more tender and delicate the shortbread will be.  The recipe yields 20 to 24 shortbread cookies.  That may sound like too few, but -- believe me -- these cookies are so rich and satisfying you don't want too many of them lying around the house.  This is the perfect dessert to bring along when attending an especially high-toned dinner party -- just a “little something" to share because you are so very nice – which  is guaranteed to steal the cooking thunder from your host.

The ingredients:

3 and 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3/4 pounds plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (3 sticks + 2 tablespoons) at room temperature
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of ice cold water (if needed)
12 ounces of very good bittersweet chocolate

Sift together the flour and salt in a medium size bowl.  Set this aside.  
With a hand-held electric mixer using dough paddles, blend the butter and sugar.  The butter must be at room temperature.  Do not cream the butter, just blend the sugar enough to incorporate it into the butter.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.  

Add the vanilla and stir a little more with the spatula.  

Set your mixer on low speed and add half of the flour & salt mixture to your mixing bowl.  Begin mixing but stop in less than a minute.  The dough will only be partly combined.   

Scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl and add the remainder of the flour and salt.  

With your mixer still set on low combine the ingredients until the dough just begins to come together.  Scrape down the sides one final time, then use the mixer for a few more seconds to incorporate that last little bit that you’ve just scraped down.

Pour the dough onto a flour dusted surface.  If needed, add a few drops of cold water to ensure that the dough will come together as you gather it into a ball.  

Press the dough into a disk like shape (don't get carried away here).  Tightly wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes.  

Set your oven at 350 degrees and let it preheat while the dough rests in the fridge.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a floured surface.  

Roll it to a thickness of 3/8 of an inch.  Not 1/4 inch.  Not 1/2 inch.  Roll it to a thickness of 3/8 of an inch.  

With a 2 3/4 inch cookie cutter, cut the rolled dough into cookies and place onto 1 large baking sheet or 2 medium baking sheets.  

Sprinkle the top of each cookie with sugar and bake in the middle of your oven.  

Begin checking for doneness after 16 minutes.  

The shortbread is done when it just starts to brown.  Resist overcooking.  Keep checking at 60 second intervals until the shortbread is perfectly done.  

Remove the dessert from the oven and use a spatula to lift each cookie from the baking sheet and place on wire racks to cool.

Once the cookies are completely cool, prepare the chocolate.  I'm intimated by chocolate so I cheat.  Pam's an expert, so pester her about the correct way to melt the bittersweet chocolate. 

I pour chocolate morsels into my big pyrex measuring cup and use my microwave oven to melt them.  I heat the chocolate bits at 30 second intervals stirring them with a fork between each interval.  It's important not to overcook your chocolate: so as soon as I see all the chocolate melting I remove the measuring cup from the microwave and beat the chocolate for 60 seconds or so to finish the melting and to give the chocolate a nice shine.  

If you haven't done so already, put a piece of wax paper under the cooling racks to catch the chocolate overflow.  Dribble a generous tablespoon of melted chocolate over each cookie.   Leave a bare edge on one side of each cookie to use as a handle when it's time to eat this chocolate covered shortbread treat. 
It's impossible to describe how good these shortbread cookies taste.  
Eat them slowly.  Allow the body heat in your mouth to melt and release all the buttery flavors baked into the cookies.  

Be prepared to reapply your lipstick when you're finished and you will definitely need a nice thick napkin to get rid of all the evidence left behind by indulging in this guilty pleasure.

Written by Randy Ashton and Mama Watts

Pam's note:  I've just read the recipe and have to make these cookies! It sounds that good.  And as far as melting chocolate, Mama you did it perfectly! I wouldn't have changed a thing!

All photos and text are property of The Gypsy Chef.