These are chocolate shortbread cookies you can literally shape any way you like! The better the cocoa powder, the richer the chocolate flavor. A fun cut-out cookie for the holidays, or any time if year as an after-dinner treat.
A brief history of shortbread
Shortbread is said to have Scottish origins, a preferred delight of Mary, Queen of Scots. Many traditional recipes include what Americans call cornstarch (corn flour in Western Europe). I leave it out, as in the United States corn is overly processed, and most brands use genetically modified corn. For a fun, in-depth read on the Scottish history, check out this write-up or this fun one by Gerard at Many Eats.
A versatile chocolate shortbread cookie
As a cooking professional, I absolutely love versatile recipes. These chocolate shortbread cookies are much like basic sugar cookie dough in that you can roll and cut them into cookies, or roll the entire batch out for a pie or tart crust, or even mini tarts.
During the holidays this shortbread can be dipped in melted chocolate or frosted and decorated as you would with sugar cookies.
The method for chocolate shortbread cookies
The most common shortbread method is to first cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the flour. This is the method I use in my almond shortbread cookies. But this chocolate version calls for the rubbing method (pie crust style). And GASP! this can be done with a food processor or even a mixer.
However, if you like the classic method better, this recipe works just fine if you cream the butter and sugar first. Be sure to whisk the cocoa powder and flour together before adding the two in.
Characteristics of great shortbread
Perfect shortbread is crispy, crumbly and above all, buttery. And perfect shortbread cookies are easy to achieve, whichever method you prefer. I love the way rubbing in the butter here lends a beautiful crumb with tiny little air pockets that add to the crispy texture.
The technique for chocolate shortbread dough
Cut the butter small. The smaller the pieces of butter, the easier it will mix in to the dry ingredients, and the better texture cookie you’ll get.
Sift or mix the dry ingredients well. Sift the dry ingredients to rid the cocoa powder and sugar of typical lumps. If using a food processor, you can skip sifting, and give the dry ingredients a good whir before adding the butter.
Chill the dough. For any sugar or shortbread cookie, pie or tart crust, chilling and resting the dough is key. It allows the proteins in the flour that toughen up during mixing to simmer down a bit, and results in a more tender, crumbly texture.
Sugar is best for rolling. For pie crust and many tart shell recipes, you use flour to roll the dough. But here, using confectioner’s (powdered) sugar prevents the dough from absorbing too much flour and becoming tough.
Roll quickly, and as little as possible. First, don’t take this nugget of advice too strongly. However, the less you can roll any dough, the better the final baked result. If you feel the dough becoming at all elastic in texture, pop it back in the fridge for a half hour, and begin again.
Cutting + shaping shortbread
This dough can be cut into any size or shape cookie, or pressed into a tart or baking pan at about a ¼-inch thickness. If you want a classic shortbread look, press the dough into a baking pan and prick the top of the dough all over with a fork.
A quick tip on baking shortbread
Any shortbread recipe only needs a relatively short time in the oven (sorry, unavoidable pun). These cookies will still be slightly soft when you take them out, but will harden as they cool. A sign of over-baked shortbread are cookies that are overly tough and dry.
If I’m writing honestly, chocolate shortbread cookies are best enjoyed bite by crumbly, delicious bite after they’ve cooled to room temperature. But listen, we’re talking about chocolate here, so you do what you have to do.
After all, I fully support renegade eating activities, and am here for you. One cookie addict to another.
Yours in shortbread,
Cut them into rounds, turn them into a showstopper of a cookie house or bake the dough up into a crispy, chocolate tart shell!
- ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1½ cups of all-purpose flour
- ⅔ cup of cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces of unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into small cubes and softened
- 1 tablespoon of milk or cream mixed with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- Large crystal sugar sprinkles or sea salt, optional
- Sift the first five ingredients and place in a large bowl, a food processor or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle.
- Add butter cubes, and mix by hand or on low speed/short pulses until the mixture becomes sandy in texture.
- Combine milk and vanilla in a small cup, and add to dough.
- Continue kneading or mixing on low until dough becomes a dense, cohesive mass (this shouldn’t take long, and only a few pulses of the processor).
- Place dough out onto a smooth surface and shape into two, 6-inch rounds. The dough can be made several days ahead to this step, wrap in plastic and refrigerate or freeze. Take dough out of the refrigerator 10-20 minutes before rolling.
- Between two pieces of parchment paper, roll dough to 1/4-inch thick (or a little bigger if you like a hefty cookie). Chill for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 325° F. Dipping cookie cutter in flour to prevent sticking, cut out cookies, space 1-inch apart on a cookie sheet, and sprinkle with large crystal sugar, if desired,
- Bake for 7 to 9 minutes on the center rack. Cool for a couple minutes on the baking pan, then completely on a rack.