Chocolate Poppyseed Graham Shortbread + Modeling Chocolate Tutorial by Molly Brodak

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After a season of cakes, I am ready for something with a little more texture to it, something crunchy and rich. These cookies have an unbelievably addictiveness to them and I think it's down to the texture: crumbly, tender shortbread with bursts of crispy poppyseeds and crunchy sanding sugar on the edges, not to mention the incredible flavor from Banner Butter. The graham flour, which I'll explain more about below, provides a lovely, homey flavor and also adds another dimension of texture for a truly multi-textural experience. They are salty and rich with dark chocolate flavor, perfect for paring with coffee or, as I did here, a bit of white chocolate. They are also exceptionally easy to make and have only one (ONE) annoying step (grating frozen butter), which I think is impressive for how delicious they turn out.

oh my god

oh my god

Let's start with the modeling chocolate.

Now, modeling chocolate, if you don't know, is a miracle. It's as pliable as fondant, perfect for using with silicone molds, sculpting, rolling out and cutting, or just messing around with, but unlike fondant it is DELICIOUS. 

Unlike fondant, which is evil to put on cookies, it is delicious.

Even if you don't have any cool food-grade silicone molds sitting around to press the modeling chocolate into beautiful decorations, you can still roll it out and make some beautiful designs with a knife or small cookie cutter if you want. You can even brush it with edible luster dust for a fancy finish. Stored in a sealed container, it should last a long time, reviving with a bit of warmth from your hands, and can be used for all kinds of fun baking projects down the line, so I recommend having some on hand.

I'm not even going to give you a recipe for it since there is no way to top Cake Paper Party's chart and instructions. My only change is that I highly recommend using Guittard's Choc-Au-Lait chips for your white chocolate version and nothing else. They are, as I mentioned a few posts back, the only edible white chocolate chips on the market in my opinion. I found them recently at Whole Foods, so you might try that if you're not willing to wait for an online order.

So basically you just melt the white chocolate chips, then mix in the correct amount of corn syrup for the consistency you want. Be quick and gentle when folding in the corn syrup. As soon as the mixture has the consistency of peanut butter, STOP. There may still be streaks of corn syrup--it's ok. Let it all cool for at least two hours.  Knead once cool, and the mixture should incorporate to a smooth, play-dough like consistency. 

See the first photo here? That's as far as you should go when microwaving white chocolate to melt it. Stop while you still have large chunks, then just stir until the chunks melt. Heating your white chocolate chips in the microwave beyond this point only leads to despair. Trust me.

In general, be careful of overworking modeling chocolate. If it gets too warm from your hands, it can break into an oily mess. There is a way to fix this though, so don't toss it. I really think these cookies are even better with a smidge of the creamy white chocolate on top, so even if you didn't want to mess with all this I would still throw in some rough-chopped chunks of white chocolate into this shortbread, or drizzle some melted on top for a very easy fix.

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Now onto the cookies themselves. We've covered shortbread already, and this one has some changes from that recipe (which I still think is the best all-around vanilla shortbread out there) due to the cocoa powder and this cultured butter I want to use.

I am IN LOVE with Atlanta's own Banner Butter, and I knew it would shine in this shortbread. If you can't find Banner, be sure to use some other kind of cultured butter as a substitute, like Plugra, Lurpak, or a local butter if you can find it. The slight tang to this butter gives the cookies a subtle buttermilky flavor, and the rich fat content is important to the recipe proportions.

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You can keep a log or two of this dough in the freezer forever, and whip it out any time you need a quick cookie for your guests. Or yourself. Just whip out your log and slice. Ok sorry, I had to. I'll stop saying "log" now.

chop your log (SORRY) with a knife warmed over the stovetop for easy slicing. And don't use a marble cutting board. Why would such a thing even exist

chop your log (SORRY) with a knife warmed over the stovetop for easy slicing. And don't use a marble cutting board. Why would such a thing even exist

Graham flour is the same thing as whole wheat pastry flour, but it is not exactly the same thing as whole wheat flour. Named for who else but the 19th C Presbyterian minister who railed against bread made with white flour (he called it "tortured") and masturbation (he called it "Self-Pollution"), graham flour is milled from the same soft wheat that cake flour is made from and it is unsifted, unlike whole wheat flour. The grain's outer hull is ground more coarsely, and yet the inner kernel is finer than whole wheat flour, so what you end up with is a light, not dense, crumb while still benefitting from the texture of the whole grain particles. It also has that nutty taste that will remind you of a graham cracker, which makes a nice base for the chocolate and acidic butter here to play against.


Chocolate Poppyseed Graham Shortbread

230 g (8 oz, two sticks) frozen and grated unsalted cultured butter

1 tsp. fine sea salt

2 Tbsp. poppyseeds

1 tsp. vanilla extract

125 g. powdered sugar

280 g. (2 c.) Graham flour 

38 g. (1/3 c.) dark cocoa powder (I always use Hershey’s Special Dark)

2 egg yolks, room temperature

Coarse demerara sugar, for sanding

Place butter in freezer for at least two hours, preferably overnight. Once butter is rock-hard, grate quickly using a box grater into a large bowl, re-freezing the butter if it starts to soften. Chop up the last few chunks rather than grating down to your thumbs.

Sprinkle salt and poppyseeds over grated butter then return to freezer for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk powdered sugar, flour, and cocoa powder together in a small bowl. Once butter is chilled, add flour mixture and quickly toss with your hands (use disposable gloves for this part if you have them). Then, add the egg yolks and vanilla and quickly mash and squeeze dough until it comes together. It may be streaky with chunks of butter. Squeeze just until it holds together, then separate into two balls and place onto plastic wrap. Work the balls into logs and roll tightly using the wrap. If dough becomes soft and warm, allow to chill before proceeding. Unwrap, the re-roll the logs in coarse Demerara sugar, then wrap tightly. Place the two logs into the freezer to chill overnight or until completely solid, at least four hours. 

Heat oven to 375 degrees F, slice dough into ¼ inch discs, and bake for about 12 minutes on a parchment-lined tray. Cool completely before storing.

Seen here piped with celestial royal icing designs

Seen here piped with celestial royal icing designs

The Pinnacle of Shortbread Mountain by Molly Brodak

I realized recently I have been doing so much cake-work in my sweetcraft practice. Time to get back to basics. The most basic of all basics, shortbread, which is, if executed well, hardly basic. 

Recipes for shortbread should be, well, pretty short--this is a recipe about butter, and if you start mucking things up with bips and babs (chocolate, lavender, caramel, etc) you're not really doing shortbread. Shortbread's purpose begins and ends with chauffeuring butter to your palate.

I wanted to create a shortbread recipe that would ensure the most toasty, buttery flavor possible while maintaining an exceptionally tender texture, not overly sandy, dull, or pasty. (Almost) as always, a little bit of extra work makes a dessert that is enormously more extraordinary. We've got three different sugars, two different butters, two different flours, a resting period, and a bit of egg yolk coming down the line--still, it's a very easy recipe.

Let's start with butter, as we should. It makes sense to want to reach for a really expensive, European high-fat/cultured butter for a recipe like this. And, indeed, we will. But as most bakers will tell you, you can't always swap in your Plugra for your standard American butter. It has a slightly higher fat content, less water, and is often cultured (making it slightly acidic), all of which affects recipes substantially. Rest assured this recipe is adjusted for Euro-butter factors.

We're also going to to use browned butter for half of the total butter requirements. All-browned butter in a shortbread recipe would create a butter a little too solid, since so much more water is evaporated from browning the butter, little is left to create steam/rise in the dough. But we really, really want those little flavor bits that browned butter imparts, so a balance must be struck.

look at those precious chunks of browned milk solids!

look at those precious chunks of browned milk solids!

With our higher-fat Euro butter in play, we need to make some adjustments to the flour. Cake flour has the ability to absorb more liquids than all-purpose flour, but using all cake flour can leave you with a chalky shortbread. All purpose with a small portion of cake flour gives us the right texture and prevents the shortbread from becoming greasy due to the extra fat. Definitely use your scale here; in one test batch I added just half an ounce more flour and the resulting shortbread was too dry.

Often a little bit of starch is also added to the dough in order to help soak up some of that fat, and give the shortbread a silky tenderness. This is where our mix of sugars comes in. White sugar melts fast and will create the right structure for the starches and proteins, powdered sugar adds a silkiness thanks to the cornstarch, and brown sugar just for that light molasses-y flavor.

All that's left, ingredient wise, is some egg yolk. Purists would balk at adding egg to shortbread, but purists would also be too busy choking on a mouthful of their powdery sand cakes that explode into dust upon biting into them to admit that the old fashioned recipe for shortbread needs a little more structure, a little more protein in order to make it flaky and tender instead of a dust bomb. Just half an egg yolk; a full yolk would prevent shortbread from being "short" enough (refers to the extremely fine/melting crumb). Trust me, you'll see.

I also knew that, as with many other cookie recipes, letting the dough rest would result in a more flavorful shortbread. Unrested, you are baking flour particles next to butter particles in your dough, which is fine. But rested, you are baking butter-soaked flour particles, which is great. I tested the recipe at three stages--unrested, rested for two hours, and rested overnight. Guess which one tasted best.

The unrested dough tasted mostly like flour. Both rested doughs tasted fantastically buttery and complex. Texture-wise, they weren't that different; the unrested dough was slightly chalkier.

The good news is that the batch rested for two hours tasted pretty great, almost as great as the 24-hr shortbread, so if you are in a hurry you'll still come out ahead with just a little resting.

they don't look very different, but they sure tasted different

they don't look very different, but they sure tasted different

Thick shortbread is better than thin shortbread if you want a truly tender bite instead of just a crisp one. Double baking the shortbread a la biscotti will give you the most beautifully browned and crisp exterior; I highly recommend it. I also recommend removing the center of your shortbread if using a round tart pan since the center will never really get cooked, and those pointed edges of each wedge will always break anyway (see my set up above; I use a metal biscuit cutter as a center stay). A rectangular pan also works great here, just make sure you are using a pan with a removable bottom as the shortbread is really delicate.

The Best Shortbread Ever

makes 12-14 wedges 

8 Tbsp (4 oz) salted cultured European-style butter, soft but cool (Plugra, Lurpak, etc)

8 Tbsp (4 oz) browned butter, cooled to semi-solid

1/4 c. (1.75 oz) packed light brown sugar

2 Tbsp (0.9 oz) sugar

2 Tbsp (0.5 oz) powdered sugar

1/2 large egg yolk

2 tsp vanilla extract or scraped vanilla bean

1/4 tsp salt

2 c. (9.5 oz) all-purpose flour

1/4 c. (1 oz) cake flour (I use White Lily)

1 Tbsp Demerara or sanding sugar for sprinkling

With a hand mixer, beat softened butters, sugars, salt, 1/2 egg yolk, and vanilla extract/beans until just combined and smooth, about 2 minutes (stop before mixture begins to fluff up). Add flours and beat just until dough comes together; do not over mix.

Press dough into a 8" tart pan or cheesecake pan with removable bottom and pat the top with wet fingers to smooth. Dock the dough with a fork and sprinkle demerara sugar on top. Cover and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Bake in an oven preheated to 275 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn the heat up to 375. Allow shortbread to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then cut into wedges and transfer carefully to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for an additional 15 minutes until toasted to a golden brown. Allow to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.

possibly the most addictive thing on the planet

possibly the most addictive thing on the planet