By Diane Rossen Worthington
Chocolate and peppermint is a flavor combination that’s hard to top. It’s a delicious pairing in a number of desserts such as mousses, ice cream and cake. So for the holiday season, why not put this classic combo in a crumbly cookie like shortbread? No one can ever get enough of these holiday cookies, which shows what a crowd-pleaser they are. Best of all, the shortbread is not hard to prepare.
This time of year, it’s easy to find candy canes for the topping. But for the best red color, look for candy canes that have bright red striping. Round peppermint candies have a larger proportion of white compared to red. I found that out the hard way when my cookies looked white with just a tiny hint of red.
I crush the candy canes in a zip-top bag, banging down on it with a heavy saucepan until the candy looks coarsely crushed so you can see the colors. If you want to make a few batches, it’s best to use two 8-inch pans rather than one larger one.
Since the cookies are quite rich, small squares are the perfect serving size. And they look fun and festive on a white platter. Simple to prepare and serious in flavor, these cookies are my final farewell to the holidays. Consider these for your Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day celebrations.
Makes 16 squares
For the shortbread:
– 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
– 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
For the topping:
– 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
– 1 cup crushed candy canes
– 1 cup candied walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with a piece of foil long enough to press up the sides of the pan, leave a 1-inch overhang so you can pull the shortbread out in one piece.
To make the shortbread: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Remove from the heat and add the brown sugar and vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Add the salt and the flour, incorporating them gradually and stirring until thoroughly mixed. Spread the mixture into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the shortbread is golden brown.
To add the topping: Remove the shortbread from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot shortbread. Return the shortbread to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes, or just until the chocolate has softened. Remove from the oven and spread the chocolate evenly with a metal spatula. Sprinkle the candied walnuts evenly over the chocolate.
Place the pan on a wire rack and cool the shortbread slightly for 20 minutes. Then transfer the pan to the refrigerator to cool for about 40 minutes, or until the chocolate has hardened. Lift the shortbread out of the pans and cut into 16 pieces with a serrated knife. Arrange on a platter and serve.
Make ahead: The cookies may be prepared up to one month ahead and stored in an airtight container in the freezer. Defrost at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving. They may also be kept up to three days in airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.