Friday, December 17, 2010

Cookie of the Month: White-Chocolate Cherry Shortbread

I know, it's more like "Cookie of the Season," since I haven't had an entry in this series since August. Number one, I've just been that busy, and number two, I haven't had an occasion to make cookies. Okay, maybe I don't need an occasion to make cookies, but I definitely need somewhere to distribute them besides my house (and by extension, my hips). It's the holiday season, so I needed to bring something to my band's holiday concert. I had two requirements: I wanted something that looked pretty, and I wanted white chocolate. A little Googling and I found this recipe at the Better Homes & Gardens site:

½ cup maraschino cherries, drained and finely chopped*
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 cup cold butter
12 oz. white chocolate baking squares with cocoa butter, finely chopped
(or be lazy like me and get chips)
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 drops red food coloring (optional)
2 teaspoons shortening
white nonpareils and/or red edible glitter (optional)

1. Preheat over to 325F. Spread cherries on paper towels to drain well. *I actually avoided this by using candied cherries instead. No draining, and they mixed in pretty well.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour and sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in drained cherries and 4 ounces (⅔ cup) of the white chocolate. Stir in almond extract and, if desired, food coloring. Knead mixture until it forms a smooth ball. It's surprising, how you start with a completely crumbly mix of stuff you think can't possibly hang together, but after a little kneading it turns out into a reasonably sticky dough, like you see in the picture here. I did use food coloring, although I think it formed a little ball and didn't spread very well throughout the dough, so I wouldn't use it again. You get enough red color from the cherries anyway.

3. Shape dough into ¾-inch balls. Place balls two inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar, flatten balls to 1-1½-inch rounds. Here's a silly question: what other kind of glass might you use besides a "drinking glass"? Is there any other kind of glass, and if so, would it really be suited for squishing dough? I don't think so. Anyway, this is what the cookies looked like pre-baking.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until centers are set. Cool for 1 minute on cookie sheet. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. My baking time was about 12 minutes, although the cookies didn't get that golden tint you expect from shortbread. Perhaps they needed another minute or two, or perhaps they just won't get golden with all the stuff in the dough.

5. In a small saucepan, combine remaining 8 oz. white chocolate and the shortening. Cook and stir over low heat until melted. Normally when I melt chocolate for dipping, I do it in the microwave, 20 seconds at a time at half power. This time it didn't work, and I had to go to the saucepan method and add extra shortening. The shortening makes the chocolate smoother and more suitable for dipping.

6. Dip half of each cookie into chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. If desired, roll dipped edge in nonpareils and/or edible glitter. Place cookies on waxed paper until chocolate is set. Mmmmm, I broke out my various mixes of holiday decorations. You can see I had some with nonpareils and sugar, and some with holiday "evergreens and berries." Both types tasted equally yummy. The cherry flavor was subtle, the white chocolate sublime, and the toppings added an interesting texture. You could taste the shortbread base underneath the cherry and white chocolate, but the texture wasn't very like shortbread at all. These were very smooth, chewy cookies, pure shortbread tends to be crumbly; again, I couldn't tell whether this was due to the extra stuff in the shortbread, or whether they needed a couple more minutes baking time. In any case, these were extremely tasty, and even though we had four dozen left at home after taking some to the concert, they were consumed within a few days.

All in all, I take away a little for the texture and give these cookies a nom nom nom nom (4 of 5 noms).

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