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A Good Appetite: Tender Hearts That Can’t Be Broken

The New York Times logoThe New York Times 6 days ago MELISSA CLARK
a slice of cake on a table: These shortbread hearts are made extra special with a dip in melted chocolate. © Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times These shortbread hearts are made extra special with a dip in melted chocolate.

Once, I gave my former Valentine a box of chocolate shortbread tied up with a red ribbon, and a big, heartfelt smile.

It wasn’t a hit. The simple, crisp cookies weren’t the gooey brownies he was hoping for, and my expectant grin couldn’t make up for the evident lack of fudge.

I haven’t made chocolate shortbread for Valentine’s Day since, opting instead for flashier sweets — ganache-gilded, pomegranate-studded, mousse-y delights that worked hard to impress.

But if Valentine’s Day is partly about fulfilling one’s heart’s desires, then chocolate shortbread needed to be back in my gift box. I adore them, and my current Valentines (husband and daughter) do, too.

The thing about chocolate shortbread cookies is that, even when adorably heart-shaped, they might seem too plain for a special gift. But a dunk in melted chocolate and a sprinkling of freeze-dried raspberries add richness and crimson pizazz. Other garnishes — flaky sea salt, chopped pistachios, crushed candy canes, toasted coconut — can also be appealing, if you want to play around.

a brown guitar on a grill: The dough is rolled extra thick to keep the cookies from shattering. (No one likes a broken heart.) © Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times The dough is rolled extra thick to keep the cookies from shattering. (No one likes a broken heart.)

I’ve modified my chocolate shortbread recipe since that ill-fated Feb. 14. This version is lighter, more crumbly and even more chocolate-y. However, the egg yolk, which makes the cookies particularly tender, also makes them slightly fragile, so I roll the dough extra thick. This helps keep the hearts from shattering — never a good omen on Valentine’s Day, and inconvenient the rest of the year, too.

Another tweak is to use salted, European-style butter. “European” refers to two things: that the butter’s fat content is higher than that of sticks of regular supermarket butter, and that the cream was cultured before it was churned. (Some labels might read “cultured” butter.) When cream is cultured, it is allowed to ferment for a day or two, giving it a hazelnut-like tang compared with fresh sweet cream. Think of the difference between heavy cream and sour cream, and you’ll know what I mean.

a glass cup on a table: White chocolate also works here, and lends a nice visual contrast. © Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times White chocolate also works here, and lends a nice visual contrast. Being a dark chocolate lover, I like to dip the shortbread in extra-bitter chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate you use, the less sweet it is. I usually go for 72 percent, which strikes a good balance. But semisweet, milk and white chocolate also work. Or use some of each so you’ll have a nice mix of flavours — and, just as importantly on Valentine’s Day, a spectacularly pretty gift box.

Recipe: Chocolate Shortbread Hearts

Fragile and supremely buttery, these cocoa-flavoured shortbread cookies are dunked partway in melted chocolate and sprinkled with an optional topping of crushed freeze-dried raspberries. If you use them, the berries add verve both from their scarlet colour and their bright acidity, which is nice against the richness of the chocolate. But other garnishes — flaky sea salt, chopped pistachios, crushed candy canes, toasted coconut — can be substituted. Be sure not to roll the dough thinner than 1/2 inch. Otherwise, the cookies are apt to break and crumble after baking. Their thickness helps keep them intact.

2 cups/255 grams all-purpose flour

1/2 cup/40 grams unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup/225 grams salted European-style (or cultured) butter (2 sticks), softened

2/3 cup/135 grams granulated sugar

1 large egg yolk

6 ounces dark, milk or white chocolate chips, or use some of each (about 1 cup)

1/3 cup freeze-dried raspberries, lightly crushed (optional)

A high angle close up of a small white bowl full of crunchy & delicious freeze-dried raspberries. © Getty A high angle close up of a small white bowl full of crunchy & delicious freeze-dried raspberries.

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder and salt.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in yolk, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in flour mixture until just combined. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

3. Once chilled, remove plastic wrap and sandwich dough between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll it out into a 1/2-inch-thick slab. Leaving dough between the parchment, place it on a baking sheet or large plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours).

4. Heat oven to 325 degrees, and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

5. Pull dough from refrigerator, and remove parchment from dough. Using a 2-inch heart-shaped cutter, cut out as many hearts as possible. Transfer them to the prepared cookie sheets. Reroll the dough scraps and repeat.

6. Bake cookies for 18 to 23 minutes, until puffed and set, rotating the cookie sheets halfway through. Transfer pans to wire racks to cool completely.

7. In a heatproof measuring cup, melt chocolate in the microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between.

8. Dip half of each cooled cookie in melted chocolate, letting the excess drip back into measuring cup. Place back on parchment-lined baking sheets, and sprinkle chocolate with crushed raspberries, if using. Let cool until chocolate is set, then store in an airtight container.

Yield: About 18 cookies

Gallery: 35 Flavourful Low-Carb Desserts [Gourmandize]

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