I had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn’t happened. But! That hasn’t stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I’m not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we’ll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam’s mom’s Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I’m set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we’ve got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they’re a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
There are what seem like a million shortbread recipes out there, but generally the traditional ones share the formula of 2 sticks butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 (or so) cup of sugar. Some recipes you’ll see adding vanilla extract, maple syrup, all manner of nuts or fruits of chocolate. Last year, I’d come across a recipe for a Mocha Shortbread that originally inspired the idea for these cookies today, but I wanted to experiment with using 100% buckwheat flour and pair it with chocolate as I think the two work so well together: buckwheat has that natural nutty, earthiness that goes so well with a dark cocoa flavor. And of course, cacao nibs add a bit of crunch that’s so nice with a crumbly, buttery cookie. I also wanted to use significantly less sugar, and I think the balance here is really spot on: dark and chocolatey with a nutty, toasty crunch and just a hint of sweetness. The flavor of the buckwheat really shines through, and they’re perfect with coffee in the evening or tea in the afternoon.
In truth, it took me a really long time to land on this recipe as I found myself inundated with all of the cookies I wanted to make. There are so many! I’d love to hear about any favorites you have in your house — really. I continue to love baking thumbprints, gingerbread men and Mexican wedding cookies — and now, these shortbread cookies: what about you? What are you baking for friends and family this year?
We are heading down to the Bay Area next week to spend time with my family over the holiday. I’m not 100% certain I’ll be back here before then, so if I’m not I hope you have a wonderfully relaxing yet spirited holiday with your loved ones that’s filled with downtime and lots of cookie baking. I so look forward to rejoining you here soon thereafter. xox ~m
Line a 9 x 13 inch pan with parchment and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using hand beaters), beat the butter on medium speed, until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Add the sugar in a few batches and continue to beat for another minute or so. Add vanilla extract, scrape down the edges of the bowl and beat again for 30 seconds or until well combined.
With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just incorporated, about 1 minute. Fold in the cacao nibs.
Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and use the plastic wrap to help you to smooth out the top of your shortbread, using your hands or the back of a measuring cup. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Use a paring knife to slice dough into 27 bars (8 across the short side, 3 across the long side). Poke holes in the top using a fork.
Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely in pan. Once cool, recut bars along your original cut marks. Shortbread will remain fresh for up to 3 weeks if stored in an airtight room temperature container.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.