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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.