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.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.