Shortbread can be a tricky thing. The dough tends to be a crumbly mess and takes quite a bit of finesse. I've tried my hand at shortbread half a dozen times with various results.
This time around I read up on some tips. Proper shortbread is a few simple ingredients: butter, flour, sugar, salt, and maybe vanilla. The first ingredient, butter, is the most prominent ingredient and it holds a fair amount of moisture. One of the secrets to achieving the desired crumbly texture and sweet flavor is to allow the dough to dry out, or rest. Chilling, or resting, the dough allows the moisture from the butter to evaporate, and with less water in the dough, the sugar concentrates. Since the dough is comprised of only three essential ingredients, this is a crucial step to ensure that all the flavors stand out.
Also, I didn't want to overwork the dough and have tough, hard cookies so I took a slightly different approach than Ina. I didn't use my stand mixer because I feel like I tend to overmix with it. Instead, I used my hand mixer until the dough started to come together and then I used my hands to warm up the butter in the dough and help everything come together. This was a successful approach and the dough came together quickly with the warmth from my hands. Our hands are our best tools, and since the first recorded recipe for shortbread was printed in Scotland in 1736, I'm positive this is the way to go.
Ina calls for you to shape the freshly mixed dough into a flat disk and chill. For the life of me, I can't understand this step. First, it's entirely unnecessary and second, it has you kneading the tar out of the dough, essentially overworking it. Why not shape the dough into a rectangular log so that when you remove the chilled dough you can simply slice it and bake it? So I did it my way.
When I went to slice the dough I was worried that it would crumble apart. It did not. It sliced like a dream and baked up the most beautiful shortbread cookies I've ever made! This is a fabulous recipe! The cookies themselves are GINORMOUS, but have the perfect texture and flavor, especially with the added chocolate. This is going to be my new go-to shortbread recipe. The only thing I might do differently next time is experiment with making them smaller. These cookies as written are about 2 inches wide and one inch thick. Too big, even for a sweets lover.
Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Food Network
Recipe by Ina Garten
3/4 pounds butter, at room temperature (3 sticks butter)
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6-7 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350F. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer as I did), mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat dish (or skip a step and shape the dough into a rectangular shaped log so that you can immediately slice the cookies once the dough has chilled). Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough 1/2" thick and cut with a 3 by 1-inch finger-shaped cutter (or do things much simpler by following my directions above, making a log with the dough and slicing the dough into cookies once chilled). Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet (I used parchment) and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (mine were done in 20 minutes), until the edges begin to brown. You do not want to overcook these cookies so check frequently and pay close attention! Allow the cookies to cool to room temperature.
When the cookies are cool, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put 3ounces of the chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, stir with a wooden spoon. Continue to heat and stir in 30-second increments until the chocolate is just melted. Add the remaining chocolate and allow it to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until it is completely smooth. Stir vigorously until the chocolate is smooth and slightly cooled; stirring makes it glossier.
Dunk the cookies or drizzle the cookies as you wish, with as much chocolate as you like. I was afraid the cookies would crumble when I dunked mine (my chocolate was quite thick) so I used a spoon to coat the cookies. This is where you can be creative and put a small amount of chocolate or coat them entirely in chocolate. Have fun with it! Make it your own!