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Stress-Baking: ‘The Cookies’

Andria
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Alison Roman’s Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies

Can a cookie (not a virus) define the early 2000s? 

The coronavirus has got us all cooped up at home. Time for some serious stress baking. 

At least that’s how I was feeling this week. So I dug into my bucket-list list of recipes just sitting in my file, waiting for a little free time.

One caveat: These are uncertain days. I wasn’t going to waste a precious grocery trip on frivolous purchases. The recipe needed to use ingredients I had in the house already. It also had to sound like the kind of thing we could stress-eat on the fly, independent of things like utensils or plates. 

What I found was this: Alison Roman’s Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies. These are the cookies that, legend says, broke the internet. People call them “The Cookies.” Bonus that they call for things I had in the house – flour, sugar, butter, chocolate. Second bonus that the title uses the word “shortbread.” Kryptonite, if you ask me. Yes, I’d be making this deliciousness. 

Alison’s Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies are something altogether different from a traditional chocolate chip cookie. There’s no debating cakey versus crispy versus gooey with these cookies. They are unapologetically their own species. Crumbly and sandy like shortbread, studded with imposing chocolate chunks, they only lean toward what you think of as a chocolate chip cookie with that caramel-y taste of brown sugar. And, of course, the chocolate. 

“I’ve always found chocolate chip cookies to be deeply flawed,” Alison wrote in her book Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes. “Too sweet, too soft, or with too much chocolate, there’s a lot of room for improvement, if you ask me.”

Alison improved the classic, alright. And in the process created what might become our time’s classic cookie. After all, I think we’d all rather the early 2000s be defined by a cookie than a virus.

Alison Roman’s Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies, a.k.a. “The Cookies”

I made these without the egg wash, sugar roll, flaky salt, because that’s what I had. Blame it on COVID-19, along with everything else.

Recipe directions:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons salted butter (2 ¼ sticks), cut into ½-inch pieces
½ cup sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
6 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped (not too fine; you want chunks, not little shards)
1 large egg, beaten
Demerara sugar, for rolling
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Recipe directions: 

Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer, beat the butter, both sugars and vanilla on medium-high until it’s super light and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes for a stand mixer; 6 to 8 for a hand mixer). Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and, with the mixer on low, slowly add the flour, followed by the chocolate chunks, and mix just to blend. If necessary, knead the dough with your hands to make sure the flour is totally incorporated. At this point, the dough should be smooth and feel like Play-Doh with no pockets of flour.

Divide the dough in half, placing each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic over so that it covers the dough to protect your hands from getting all sticky. Using your hands, form the dough into a log shape; rolling it on the counter will help you smooth it out, but don’t worry about getting it totally perfect. (Don’t be afraid to make them compact. Shortbread is supposed to be dense. That’s part of why it’s so good.) You can also do this using parchment paper, if you prefer, but plastic wrap is easier when it comes to shaping the log. Each half should form a 6-inch log, 2 to 2 ¼ inches in diameter. Chill until totally firm, about 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the outside of the logs with the beaten egg and roll them in the demerara sugar (this is for those really delicious, crisp edges).

Using a serrated knife, carefully slice each log into ½-inch thick rounds (if you hit a chocolate chunk, slowly saw back and forth through the chocolate). If the cookies break or fall apart, just press them back together – the dough is very forgiving. Place them on the prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart (they won’t spread much). Sprinkle with flaky salt. Bake until the edges are just beginning to brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly before eating them all.

Tips:

The cookie dough can be made ahead and stored, tightly wrapped in plastic, up to 1 week in the refrigerator, or 1 month in the freezer. Cookies can be baked and stored in plastic wrap or an airtight container for 5 days. 

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