High Altitude Baking: Chocolate chunk shortbread (recipe)
Editor’s note: High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
A committed relationship — that’s what I have with this little shortbread. I make it again and again and probably always will. Both rich and delicate, each bite renders a tender, crisp texture and enough chocolate to feel lush on the tongue. It elevates a custard or sorbet to a company dessert and is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee. The shortbread is also easy to make and stores well.
I mean, really, what’s not to like?
The secret to this recipe’s success is good chocolate — use a kind that you enjoy eating and chip it into small chunks by hand.
The easiest way to measure the cornstarch and flour is to put two tablespoons of cornstarch in the bottom of a one-cup measure and then, using the spoon and level method, add enough flour to fill it. Don’t have any cornstarch? Make the recipe with a full cup of bleached, all-purpose flour; it’ll still be a good cookie.
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Chocolate Chunk Shortbread
(Make in an 8-inch-by-8-inch metal baking pan. Makes 21 cookies.)
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick)
Generous ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces good semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into quarter-inch chunks (about 1/3 cup)
2 ½ ounces semisweet chocolate
½ teaspoon canola oil
Line the pan with nonstick or regular aluminum foil, letting it extend several inches on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked cookies. If using regular foil, grease it well with a vegetable oil-flour spray. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees with a rack in the center position.
To make with a food processor: Add the flour, cornstarch, salt and confectioners’ sugar to the bowl, and pulse until well combined. Cut the butter into 16 pieces, add them with the vanilla and process until big, moist curds are formed. Dump the dough out, and gently knead the chunks of chocolate into the dough until they’re evenly distributed.
To make with a mixer: Whisk the flour, cornstarch and salt until thoroughly combined, and set aside. Cut the butter into pieces, place in a mixing bowl and let soften. Beat butter on medium speed until lightened and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and then the vanilla, and continue to beat until lightened. With your mixer on its lowest speed, stir in the flour mixture. Either stir or knead in the chocolate chunks until they’re evenly distributed.
Spread the dough into an even layer, about 1/4-inch thick, in the prepared pan (I press it through a piece of plastic wrap to do this), and place it in the freezer for 5 to 8 minutes, until it’s firm.
Cut the dough into 7 rows of equal width, and then cut the rows into thirds, making 21 rectangular cookies. Prick each cookie with a toothpick or small fork several times to allow air to escape while baking. Bake until the slab of cookies is golden brown and firm, but not hard, about 40 minutes.
Remove to a cooling rack, wait about 2 minutes, and then re-cut the cookies, following the original cut-lines. Let the cookies cool until barely warm, and then use the foil handles to remove them from the pan to cool completely.
Glaze the cookies: Finely chop the chocolate, place it in a small microwavable bowl and microwave for about 2 minutes at a low-medium temperature (I use No. 4 out of 10 on the microwave settings); remove the chocolate when there are still some small visible lumps. (It can also be melted by placing it in a heatproof bowl in a skillet of slowly simmering water and stirring often once it starts to melt.) Add the canola oil, and stir until smooth and shiny.
Dip one long edge of each cooled cookie in the chocolate, and set them on a piece of foil (I smooth out the nonstick foil that lined the pan), parchment paper or a silicone baking mat until the glaze is set (place in the fridge to speed up the process). Store the cookies, airtight, for up to five days.
Vera Dawson — author of the high-altitude cookbooks “Baking Above It All” and “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards — is a chef instructor with Colorado Mountain College’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.