The Recipe: A simple chocolate shortbread cookie, tender and crisp, barely sweet.
The Conversation: A Valentine to nurses, especially the ones caring for my almost 90-year old father.
"Hello, it's me." No, not Adele, sorry. (Wow. Going on 1.2 billion listens on YouTube alone!)
I sure didn't plan for a long break between our Family Shortbread before Christmas to now, Chocolate Shortbread Cookies just before Valentine's. Thanks to all who noticed, who wrote to ask if everything is okay. I do thank you.
But now here it is, Valentines Day, the herald of romantic love, the love between sweethearts. But right now? For me? The love that bursts from my heart is for nurses and caregivers.
You see, in the last six weeks, I found myself living a crash course in Distant Dads and Daughters as my sister and I grapple to help our aging father from afar.
Assessing the situation with incomplete and shifting information. Crossing the country, twice already and no doubt again in the future, to be present in person. Long weeks away from home. The ups and downs of pain management prescription drugs. The inadequacy of home health care. The lure and confusion of emergency rooms. The puzzle of one physician after another, five minutes of interaction, then whoosh, gone. The well of emotion when the hospital therapy dog's name was Lady (we've had three Lady dogs in our family). The struggle between the memory of a young athletic self and the reality of today's diminished self. The tears when more of life is past than ahead. The shock of gaping holes in Medicare. The crush of paranoia. The relief of a fine, fine rehab facility. The sense of message when the welcome nurse's name was Shirley (my mom's name, long gone from this world). The slow, tedious work of regaining strength and mobility.
I could go on and on. But I won't. Versions of our situation are found in every family. As difficult as it is, I know that ours is not the worst.
But besides, oh my! Amid the anguish, what blessings, the nurses! The healing power of day-to-day, hour-to-hour and even minute-to-minute care. Such gentle hands, such very capable touch. The quiet smiles of understanding and encouragement. The skill of keeping dignity intact. Nurses: Such miracles you are!
So to Tiffany. And Takoshia, Ana, Sarah and Marcia. To Domonic. To Meeka, Chris, Cheryl and Kim. To Janet and Aleesha. To Peggy. To Denise and Jennifer. And Heather. And to all those nurse with such skill and poise and warmth.
You are my Dad's Valentine. Near or far, a daughter could be no more grateful.
CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD COOKIES
Time to table: 3 hours
Makes about 4-1/2 dozen small cookies or fewer larger cookies
AN HOUR BEFORE MIXING
- 1 cup (2 sticks, 225g) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (125g) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
- Coarse sugar, for sprinkling, optional
- Raw sugar, for coating logs, optional
- Powdered sugar, for rolling, if needed
AN HOUR BEFORE MIXING Let the butter and vanilla rest in your mixing bowl for one hour. Line baking sheets with parchment. Measure the sugar and salt into one small bowl, the flour and cocoa powder into another.
MIX THE SHORTBREAD DOUGH With a hand mixer, mix the butter and vanilla together on low speed until thoroughly combined and the butter is slightly soft; stop at least once and probably twice to use a knife to scrape the butter off the mixing blades and a spatula to scrape the mixing bowl, especially the bottom of the bowl.
Slowly pour in the sugar in a stream. At low to medium speed, combine butter and sugar until completely combined; stop to scrape at least once, maybe two or three times.
At low speed, mix in about a third of the flour-cocoa mixture, just until combined; scrape the beaters and the bowl. Add the remaining flour-cocoa mixture. At low speed, combine the mixture, it will start off floury and then sandy, keep mixing until the dough comes together.
CHILL FOR AN HOUR Separate dough into two roughly equal pieces. For Slice 'n' Bake Chocolate Shortbread Rounds, form each piece into a round log; for Chocolate Shortbread Fingers (my favorite), form each piece into a round log, then flatten the logs slightly; for Chocolate Shortbread Cutout Shapes, form each piece into a flat disk.
Wrap the logs or disks in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 - 60 minutes, less time the thinner the pieces, more time the thicker the pieces. (If the dough refrigerates longer than this, it'll need to be left out at room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes to reach a good working temperature. The dough should be firm but pliable, with firm edges and easily lifted from underneath without breaking apart or bending.)
ROLL & BAKE Set oven to 300F/150C with the rack in the center.
For Slice 'n' Bake Chocolate Shortbread Rounds, roll the log in raw sugar, gently pressing the log into the sugar to completely coat. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into rounds and transfer onto a baking sheet.
For Chocolate Shortbread Fingers, with your hands, lightly brush the dough log with powdered sugar. With a rolling pin, roll the flattened log into a much longer and slightly wider piece of dough; use the flat edge of a long knife to neaten the long edges; make sure the dough is of even thickness throughout. If you like, once the dough is the right thickness, use a fluted-edge cutting device to give a nice shape to the edges, I love this wavy crinkle cutter. First, cut off a tiny tiny bit of dough on all four sides, then cut cross-wise into "fingers". Use an offset spatula to lift each finger onto a baking sheet.
For Chocolate Shortbread Cutout Shapes, with your hands, dust the first dough disk with powdered sugar. Roll out the disk to an even thickness, use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Use an offset spatula to lift each shape onto a baking sheet. Set aside the scraps. Repeat with the second dough disk. Combine the scraps from both disks and roll again. Sprinkle the cookies with coarse sugar, if desired.
Whatever shape you choose, please know that shortbread "relaxes" more than "spreads" during baking but still, don't crowd the cookies on the baking sheet. The baking time will vary based on how thick the cookies are. Until you get to know your own oven with how thick you roll shortbread, start checking at 10 minutes; quite thick cookies can take 25 - 35 minutes. When done, the cookies should be crispy at the edges and on the bottoms but quite white in the center even though baked all the way through. Once baked, the cookies should "snap" when bitten into but shouldn't be hard.
FOR THE BEST SHORTBREAD There are so many tips included with the recipe for our Family Shortbread, they all apply to Chocolate Shortbread Cookies as well.
UNSWEETENED COCOA POWDER I am much-much partial to Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder, it's relatively easy to find but not every supermarket carries it. It's worth seeking out: it's a much deeper, darker chocolate. When I use regular cocoa powder, chocolate baked goods just don't have that chocolate "oomph" that's so crave-worthy.
Whole Recipe (for easy math for different cookie yields): 3077 Calories; 178g Tot Fat; 120g Sat Fat; 488mg Cholesterol; 2482mg Sodium; 329g Carb; 20g Fiber; 117g Sugar; 36g Protein.
Per Cookie, assumes 54 small cookies: 54 Calories; 3g Tot Fat; 2g Sat Fat; 8mg Cholesterol; 44mg Sodium; 6g Carb; 0g Fiber; 2g Sugar; 1g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 1 & PointsPlus 1 & SmartPoints 2 (FYI, 2 cookies = 2.5 & 3 & 5 points, respectively)
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