Its 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. Well 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 didnt 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 Im 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
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.