The last time I was home I promised my step-father, Henry, that I would learn to make his favorite cookies: classic vanilla shortbreads. An important thing you should know about Henry is that he likes his foods in very specific ways, and isn’t into shaking things up. He likes plain butter, and will be visibly angry if you put something like “basil” or “strawberry” flavored butter in front of him (there is a commonly told story in our family of the time that he almost lost it when a restaurant had the audacity to serve “fig”flavored butter). He likes steak, but not with any crazy sauces on top. I’ve learned by now that if I offer to make dinner I have to tell him my menu ideas in advance for approval. (When I was home last summer I made both quinoa cookies and roasted corn pizza in the same week. It was almost enough to be banned from his kitchen indefinitely).
To Henry, shortbreads are plain vanilla flavor, with nothing “weird” added to them. I honestly had the intention of making just such a cookie, but then I remembered that I had a chocolate extract I still hadn’t used, and the finished cookies looked so plain that I felt they were just screaming for some chocolate and nuts to be dipped in. So…I didn’t quite end up with plain shortbreads. Henry will be reading this post and thinking that I ruined perfectly good cookies and that he obviously failed me as a father.
But hey, the thing about shortbreads is that they are really easy to make, and even easier to customize. To change up the flavor you simply use any variety of extract, whether it be vanilla, chocolate, almond, or any other flavor you have on hand. You can leave them plain or dip them in any variety of melted chocolate and/or chopped nuts (I used pecans, but pistachios would also be just fabulous). So Henry can have his plain vanilla cookies, I can flavor mine and dip them in chocolate, and we can BOTH GET ALONG.
Now who wants to discuss politics?
Classic Dipped Shortbread Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla, chocolate or almond extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until just combined. Add in the extract. With the mixer on a low speed, slowly add the flour and pinch of salt until the dough comes together. Pour the dough out onto a flattened surface and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and pour back onto the floured surface. Roll the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter or a knife, cut the cookies into desired shape. Place the cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the bottom edges begin to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
Once the cookies are cool, pour the chocolate chips into a small bowl and the chopped nuts into another. Place the chocolate chips in a microwave on high for 30 seconds, then stir the chocolate. Repeat this process until the chocolate is completely melted.
Dip the cookies into the chocolate, and then gently scrape the edges on the side of the bowl to remove excess. Sprinkle the chopped nuts over the chocolate and allow the cookies to set up for at least an hour.