crisp, buttery bites on a wintry night


chocolate shortbread III, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

It’s a dark and stormy evening here in Seattle.

(Remember how Snoopy began every novel he attempted to write, while perched on the sloping angles of his doghouse, with “…It was a dark and stormy night.”? As a little kid who wanted to be a writer someday, that stuck with me.)

March slipped in with hardly a whimper, pale slivers of sunlight sliding through the clouds occasionally. One day last week, I actually wore a t-shirt as I walked around in the incipient spring air, introducing my skin to the sky again. For nearly ten minutes, I drove around town with the windows down, the breeze carving shapes in my hair. The craggy Olympic mountains shattered the fog one morning last week, jutting in pink edges against the pale morning sky, every edge in sharp relief. And I stood at my living room windows, a cup of coffee in my hand, not moving. Suddenly, everything felt wider than the narrow grey of January.

Spring is coming. The farmers’ markets will be open soon. Fresh asparagus will shimmer green and inviting at small stalls. Pale tulips will give way to vivid colors and throng the long tables of Pike Place Market in rows of white buckets. Spring green buds will burst out of slender branches. Winter will fade into memory. We’ll all feel alive, chattering on the sidewalks, emerging from our caves and turning our faces toward the sun.

We will. But not yet.

Today, in the transition between afternoon and evening, the skies began to glower an angry grey. Rain smashed down on the heads of people scurrying from the dry cleaners and bakery toward their cars. Bright light flashed against the sky, such an unusual sight around here that I didn’t recognize it as lightning until the thunder rumbled over my head. For fifteen minutes or so, snow flashed across the path of light made by the streetlamps. Everything bowed down to the winter leaving, with a loud, fist-shaking imperative: look at me.

A perfect night to stay in, curl up under the red-fleece blanket on my couch, and watch movies. A perfect night to give into a March evening in Seattle. A perfect night for chocolate shortbread.

Winter may not be gone yet, but I’m waving it goodbye with both hands. And then using those hands to roll out crisp, buttery cookies filled with rich chooclate intensity.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Shortbread, adapted from Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen

chocolate shortbread

Some images and places are indelibly Seattle for me: the sight of black coffee about to meet my lips; Mount Rainier appearing unexpectedly, looming over the land; the swath of Puget Sound that opens up as I drive out of the tunnel and onto the viaduct; peaches in July at Sosio’s produce stand; the dappled path of trees in Discovery Park.

And Tom Douglas.

I adore Tom Douglas; I really do. When I first moved to Washington State, back in college, my idea of luxury, gourmet dining was a birthday dinner at the Dahlia Lounge. Fat crab cakes, little salads of exotic greens, and of course — that triple coconut cream pie. I can’t have the crab cakes or pie anymore, but I still love the Dahlia Lounge. And all the other Tom Douglas restaurants in town: Lola; Palace Kitchen; Etta’s. You can’t go wrong in any of them.

I love that Tom Douglas is self-taught, instead of culinary-school trained. I love his openness and love of food and the celebration of Seattle he sings in his every cookbook. This is my town. This is my kind of man.

These gluten-free chocolate shortbread cookies are an adaptation of a recipe I found in his Seattle Kitchen cookbook. They spread more thin than a traditional shortbread, but they have a wonderful density, a real back-of-the-molars bite to them. Shadows of chocolate dance along the bright palettes of butter and sugar, making these far more interesting than a one-layered sugar cookie could ever be.

For an extra kick of intensity against the cold air, try a cocoa powder flavored with chiles and cinnamon, like Dagoba.

one cup unsalted butter, softened (the better the butter, the better the cookie)
one-half cup sugar (organic cane sugar makes a great crunchiness)
one teaspoon vanilla extract (make sure it’s gluten-free)
one-half cup unsweetened cocoa powder (splurge on a quality one — it’s worth it)
three-quarter sweet rice flour
one-half cup teff flour
one-quarter millet flour
one-quarter tapioca flour
one-half teaspoon xanthan gum
one-half teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325° and pull out your favorite baking sheet. If you have a silpat, use that for these cookies, on top of the baking sheet. If not, then a skim of parchment paper might do nicely.

In a large bowl, mix all the flours, xanthan gum, cocoa powder, and salt together. Set this aside. (Note: if you don’t have all these flours on hand, I’m certain a basic gluten-free flour mix would work well here. Remember, however, that teff creates a fabulous texture for baked goods.)

Mix the softened butter and sugar together until they are just creamed. Do not overmix this — that will make the cookies spread across the silpat when they are cooking. After they are just creamed, add in the vanilla and give the whole mixture a whirl. Add in the flour and cocoa powder mixture until it has combined well. (Note: at first, this might look crumbly dry and impossibly worng. Don’t worry, and especially don’t add any liquid. Keep stirring — or better yet, use your KitchenAid for this work — and let the magic happen. Soon, it will be a consistent dough.)

Dust the surface of your kitchen counter with rice flour, or another gluten-free flour. Roll out the cookie dough to one-half inch thickness. Use your favorite cookie cutter — I used a square ravioli press, if you want to know the truth — to make the shapes and place them on the baking sheet. Repeat this until you have used all the dough.

Bake these in the oven for about fifteen minutes, or until they feel firm to the touch (but not rock-hard). Take them out of the oven to cool on the baking sheet for five minutes or so until you attempt to transfer them to a wire rack. The cookies will probably be a little fragile, a little temperamental. Go gentle on them.

Nibble and chew, savoring the taste, while gazing out the window at the cold air below. You’ll feel better.

Makes about twenty cookies.

12 comments on “crisp, buttery bites on a wintry night

  1. blurgirl

    You’re right. A rain pelting, wind whipped night — a perfect night to be under covers with rented flicks. And that’s just what I did.

    Now back from Spain, one of the first thoughts that comes to my mind as I revisit your blog is: do you know about jamon Iberico? Have you ever tried it? It’s a food I came to appreciate greatly on it’s own, layered in paper thin slices on a wooden plate, or wrapped around decadently ripe melon slices and popped in my mouth. I believe it’s hard to find in the States (darn those agricultural customs officers), but I think I remember you saying that you’ve traveled in Europe, yes? If you haven’t tried this ham, ham that has made other ham sad and lacking to my tongue, just quietly slip the name into the back of your mind and then if you ever have a chance to try it in your travels, by all means seize it.

    Glad you had such a wonderful trip in N.Y.C. Glad you’re back safe and sound.

  2. Catherine

    Before I made it past the first sentence, I thought to myself, “Damn! I’d love to start a piece that way.” But SF is pretty low on thunderstorms. Glad you enjoyed your evening…(got any choc shortbread to spare? I feel a rain cloud passing by.)

  3. Kimberly

    On Friday afternoon, we moved the meeting I was attending out onto a deck overlooking Elliott Bay. I happily squinted into the sun for an hour. 90 minutes later I was listening to that thunder. How wonderful! It was a perfect night for cooking, and your shortbread look/sound wonderful.

  4. Katy

    Yum! Shauna, if I can’t use the cocoa (that’s what I’m allergic to!) would you sub. more of one of the other ingred’s or something else?

    Thanks again for such inspiring pictures! (My thighs are really hating me … :) )

  5. gaile

    oh yum! I certainly hope you’re working toward writing a cookbook, because the way you write about food makes me want to eat it all, and savour every bite! SO hey, do you have any advice for adapting a recipe for german chocolate cake? I want to make this one for a friend at the end of the month, and haven’t the slightest idea where to begin.
    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/103202

  6. Shauna

    Blurgirl:

    Oh, that jambon sounds heavenly. Wrapped around a melon slice indeed! Now I have to go to Spain, just to taste it.
    Hey, glad you’re home too, safe and sound. We really should meet someday to talk about all this food!

    Catherine:

    Thanks! I’ve always wanted to start a piece in Snoopy fashion. Who knew it would be with chocolate shortbread? (If there were any left at this point, I’d definitely send it your way.)

    Kimberly:

    A meeting on Elliott Bay on a day like that sounds wonderfully exciting. Isn’t this crazy March weather we’re having?

  7. Shauna

    Katy:

    Thanks for the compliments on the photos. And the cocoa? I would just turn to a traditional shortbread recipe at that point. Or, maybe you could substitute another dried ingredient you can have? A little coconut? A little lavender? Experiment — let me know how it turns out!

    Luisa:

    Thank you, my dear. I’d never thought of chocolate in shortbread until I read it in the Tom Douglas book. Now, I can only think, what a paucity of creativity I was experiencing!

    Gaille:

    A cookbook? Thank you. Well, we’ll just have to see…

    As far as the German chocolate cake goes, all you would need to do is substitute a gluten-free flour mix in for the flour. I’d try a combination of sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, and maybe a little teff. Or, you could use almond flour instead of the teff. Mostly sweet rice, I think. Let me know how it goes.

    MappyB:

    This shortbread was delicious, I have to say. I have a chocolate-banana teff bread recipe on the site. I’m working on archiving my recipes, but for now, you can use the search box at the top-left corner.

  8. cheryl

    i’d like to grind my own sweet rice flour. what kind of rice do i use? will it just say ‘sweet rice’?

    thanks!

  9. Shauna

    Cheryl,

    It will just say sweet rice flour. I’m fond of the already-ground Mochiko from California. I’m sure they sell the whole rice grains as well!

  10. Paula

    I was stumbling and found your wonderful page. I was salivating after reading the recipe and the search was on for the Dagoba cocoa powder flavored with chilis and cinnamon. I can’t seem to find it anywhere online! Do you know where I might find it? Being a pepper head, I love anything that has a kick to it!
    Sinking your teeth into a heavenly hunk of blended love only to feel the warm burn at the back of your throat, it only makes you want more”.
    Thanks for the help!