Smoked Salt and Almond Shortbread Stars

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Oh, hi!

It’s been a little quiet around here, but baking/sugar cooking has been happening. Next week I’ll have an iteration of my fave caramels, but for today I have these sweet and salty shortbread stars.

I love a shortbread. The dough is easy to put together, it can chill in the fridge or freezer for days, they are super buttery, and they appeal to children and adults alike. I also love that there are multiple ways to shape them–you can press the batch into a round pan for wedges, roll it up and slice as needed, or roll it out and use cutters.

I opted to do a star shape since I got it into my head that I wanted to paint a navy background, and wouldn’t it be cute to put tiny star cookies all over it, so it could be kind of like a magical-cookie-night-sky? Yes, yes it would be and it is.

These cookies are nutty, buttery, smoky-sweet & salty. I coarsely ground the almonds so there would be some crunchy nubbins as well as fine bits throughout each bite. I used smoked salt from Allstar Organics–I love this salt for it’s intense charcoal color, deep smoke flavor, and satisfying crunch. The salt really makes these cookies–it plays so nicely with almond and lots of butter. Since these are shortbreads and shortbreads are a sturdy cookie when well packaged, they travel like a dream. The salty-nutty and just sweet flavor of these cookies make me think these would be just as welcome on a festive cheese plate as they would on a holiday cookie tray.

*As usual, all opinions are my own. Allstar Organics probably doesn’t even know who I am, I just love their Applewood Smoked salt and thought you should know it.

Smoked Salt + Almond Shortbread Stars

adapted from Martha Stewart

There are many brands of smoked salt, Maldon makes a nice, lightly smoked, flaky one. I like the Allstar salt since it is so dark and contrasts nicely. You could also just use whatever salt you have on hand–there won’t be any smoke flavor, but the cookies will be delicious regardless. The cookies hold their shape best if you chill the cut cookies on the pan before baking–about 10-15 minutes will do the trick.

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup confectioners sugar

scant 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon smoked salt, plus more for sprinkling

1/3 cup coarsely ground almonds (grind in a food processor or chop by hand)

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

With an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, extracts, and salt until smooth and combined. On low speed, mix in the almonds and flour until just combined.

Divide the dough and flatten into two discs. Wrap discs in plastic and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 300*F.

Using one disc at a time, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Using desired cutter, cut out cookies and transfer to parchment lined baking sheets. Sprinkle a bit of salt onto the tops of each cookie. Chill sheets in the refrigerator 10-15 minutes, bake 22-25 minutes or until cookies are just turning golden around the bottom edges. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough/cookies. Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks.

Recipe: Chocolate Mendiants

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Tempering chocolate is one of those things that freaks me out.

Not the kind of freak-me-out that spiders induce–you know, the screaming, running, jumping kind–but rather, the kind that looms large on the horizon. The kind that chips aways at my brain, promising disaster, wasted pounds of ingredients, time, and mountains of frustration. The kind that I have always wanted to attempt, but always approached with such trepidation and nerves, that I have avoided it for years now.

The other day, I decided to go for it. It’s one of my goals of the year that I can now check off my list. Not that my list is long and/or difficult, but it feels like an accomplishment nonetheless. Tempering the chocolate gives the finished candies stability, an even, satiny appearance, and delightful snap when broken. I found an approachable technique on Martha Stewart’s website that worked really well for me. Instead of using the microwave–mine is in  an awkward area of my kitchen–I used the double boiler method. The heating pad trick is genius and instantly set my mind at ease, knowing there would be some insurance for keeping my painstaking efforts at temperature. Majorly big sigh.

These little gems are simplistic in composition. A disk of chocolate studded with fruits and nuts. Mendiants are a French confection, generally found around Christmas, but with Easter around the corner, I thought these would make a wonderful, adult-like treat in lieu of (or addition to!) chocolate eggs and bunnies.

Chocolate Mendiants

Technique found on Martha Stewart

Since the ingredient list here is simple, I would encourage using your favorite chocolate for these, as well as quality ingredients for nestling. You could certainly make these without tempering the chocolate, though you may find that you need to refrigerate to keep the candies hard. 

1 pound good quality chocolate–I used Callebaut

assorted nuts, fruits, salt for topping–I used blanched/toasted almonds, toasted hazelnuts, toasted coconut, candied orange peel (recipe here), and smoked sea salt

Cover a heating pad in a clean dish towel and set pad to lowest setting. Using a sharp knife, shave the chocolate. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment or silicone liners.

In a heatproof glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt 2/3 of the chocolate while stirring, until the chocolate registers 120F on an instant read thermometer.

Remove from heat and stir in remaining chocolate–I did this gradually–stirring, moving the mixture up the sides of the bowl and back down into the mixture until the temperature reads between 86-89F. To test the chocolate, drizzle a small amount onto a stainless steal surface–the chocolate should harden into a matte finish in about 5 minutes. Place the bowl on the heating pad and working quickly spoon level tablespoons full of chocolate onto lined baking sheets. Allow the chocolate to begin to set before studding with desired fruits, nuts, etc. Once completely set, chocolates can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month.