Is the smell of butter and sugar and spices taking over your kitchen yet? If not, come on over to mine. It’s the beginning of the holiday baking season, and I just made 13 dozen cookies to bring to my first cookie swap.
For as much as holiday cookies are an annual tradition for me, and given how much I like swapping stuff, you’d think I’d have been to a cookie swap at some point, but nope. So when the new Savory Spice shop nearby asked if anyone would be interested in one, I figured it would be too fun to pass up.
The challenge: figuring out what cookie I wanted to make 13 dozen of–tried and true or something new? While I was home for Thanksgiving, I pored through my mom’s cookie cookbooks, trying to decide between my favorite biscotti (my first instinct, a cookie I know and love), or one of a dozen new tasty-sounding treats. Considering I wouldn’t have time to taste-test anything, and I’d only have a day for baking before the swap, my mom in her brilliance suggested one of our cookie day staples, shortbread studded with toffee bits and drizzled with chocolate. They’ve always been one of the most popular cookies we’ve made, look beautiful, are relatively simple, and really, who can pass up shortbread?
Being the overachiever that I can be, and having a day to kill before diving back into work and a jam-packed month, I figured why not try making my own toffee? A terrible idea, as I now know how easy it is to make.
My search for a toffee recipe actually led me to Smitten Kitchen, her coffee toffee, and her coffee chocolate shortbread. Honestly I’m one of those people who actually dislikes the taste of coffee (unless it’s an espresso in a piazza in Italy, or a foofy sugar drink from Starbucks), but I love how it smells. It has a bitter warmth, very similar to the caramelized sugar and browned butter flavor of toffee or to deep, dark chocolate. Hmm, toffee, chocolate, and coffee you say?
So with a little tweaking or a few existing recipes, I came up with this–coffee-flavored toffee studded with cocoa nibs, crushed and stirred into coffee-flavored shortbread drizzled with bittersweet chocolate. I know and trust my mom’s toffee shortbread recipe, but I love the addition of a tablespoon of espresso from Deb’s recipe. For the toffee, the espresso adds the right flavor boost to the sugar and butter, but I wanted a little extra chocolate kick. Enter cocoa nibs, unsweetened raw cacao pieces with a nutty crunch. When the toffee is stirred into the dough and baked, it creates a wonderful chewy contrast to the flaky, delicate shortbread.
I think these might just be perfect cookies to start a month of baking projects–a just-right balance of bitter and sweet, delicate and chewy, toasty and nutty, and of course plenty of butter. Oh, plenty of butter.
Toffee Coffee Shortbread
If you like the smell of coffee more than the flavor, as I do, don’t be afraid of these cookies. The coffee enhances the caramel flavor of the toffee, chocolate, and browned butter, but doesn’t scream coffee. You can cut these in any shape you like–traditionally we rolled the dough into circles and cut the cookies into pie-shaped wedges but squares are easy for packing. Trimmed dough can also be combined and re-rolled. Makes around 35 cookies, and the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
1 tablespoon instant espresso
1 tablespoon boiling water
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup flour (spooned lightly into measuring cup)
1/2 cup toffee bits, crushed into small pieces (you can make the Coffee Toffee below, or use any toffee you like)
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons cream
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Dissolve espresso in hot water and set aside to cool.
Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, beat in espresso. Stir in flour and toffee pieces and mix well. Gather dough together into a ball and place between 2 pieces of wax paper. Roll out to 1/4 thickness, then refrigerate 30 minutes. Flip onto a piece of parchment paper, cut dough into 1 1/2 inch squares, and prick each square a few times with a fork.
Bake for 18 to 23 minutes, rotating pan halfway through (dough will be pale). Cool 5 minutes on pan, then re-cut squares. Gently transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.
In a small bowl, combine chocolate and cream. Heat over a double boiler, or in 30 second bursts in the microwave, until chocolate just starts to melt. Stir until completely melted, and pour into a small squeeze bottle or plastic bag with the corner cut off. Drizzle over cooled cookies, allow chocolate to harden before storing.
Coffee Toffee with Cocoa Nibs
It’s a terrible discovery that toffee is this easy to make. Terrible, I tell you. And since you only need 1/2 cup for the shortbread recipe, you’ll have plenty left for stirring into ice cream or sneaking as a midnight snack. This can also be topped with melted chocolate and finely chopped almonds. Don’t blame me for this idea, blame Smitten Kitchen and her delicious cookbook.
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
2 cups unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner and sprinkle evenly with cocoa nibs.
Combine remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally as butter melts. Keep an eye on the temperature with a candy thermometer; as it approaches 250 degrees, whisk more frequently. When the toffee reaches 300 degrees, remove from heat.
Drizzle toffee evenly over prepared pan, spreading evenly with a heatproof spatula. Allow to cool for several hours at room temperature, or in the freezer if you’re feeling impatient.