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.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.