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This Sunday baking entry is not exactly unexplored territory, since I’ve already used the same base to make a mocha-flavored cookie — appropriately enough during the last round of being stuck indoors thanks to my winter curse.

Still, I wanted to share it given that my current crop of co-workers dubbed these “the best you’ve made yet”, and because, while the basic inspiration might be the same, they’re actually quite different. The other one is more snappy, with a very strong mocha flavor, while this one is a proper crumbly shortbread, dominated by butter and just kissed with coffee and chocolate. It’s an interesting example of how you can manipulate the underlying mechanics to get distinct, but equally good, results.

These cookies are also a good lesson on how one ingredient can make a huge difference in the outcome. I had my usual rush of impulsiveness during our last visit to the Asian market, and among the items I picked up was a box of rice flour.

Being gluten-free, rice flour gives baked goods a velvet tenderness that you could never get otherwise, no matter how gently you treat the dough and how carefully you avoid over-mixing.

While leaving the shortbread plain lets you focus like a laser beam on the perfection of its texture, I couldn’t resist adding a chopped-up Scharffen Berger Mocha bar, picked up during my annual crazed shopping spree at the San Francisco Ferry Terminal market. The slightly bitter edge of the coffee, coupled with the buttery plushness of the shortbread, makes for a very not-for-kids cookie.

If you don’t have easy access to the full Scharffen Berger line (as I stupidly don’t, despite being in driving distance of the corporate candy overlords that bought them out) you could use any kind of good-quality dark chocolate bar, flavored or not. I suspect an orange-flavored one would work particularly well.

Mocha Chip Shortbread
(Adapted from Ethereal Brown Sugar Butter Cookies in Sally Schneider’s The Improvisational Cook)
Makes 48 1 x 2 inch fingers

1 cup (2 sticks) cold top-quality unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons rice flour
1 3-ounce Scharffen Berger mocha bar, chopped

Line a quarter sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Dice the butter into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the brown and granulated sugars and the salt, and beat on medium until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

Whisk together the flours and add to the creamed butter. Mix on medium-low speed just until combined, then stir in the chocolate bits.

Turn the dough out onto the foil-lined pan, and cover with a second piece of foil. Press down on the foil with your palms and fingertips to squish the dough into an even layer. (If you have a second sheet pan, you can place it over the foil and use it to get a really uniform result.) Using two forks or, better yet, a chipper, thoroughly dock the dough at even intervals.

Remove the top layer of foil and place the pan in the freezer while the oven is preheating to 325 F.

Bake until the edges are turning golden and the center looks firm, approximately 30-35 minutes. Cool the pan for 5 minutes, then carefully use the edges of the foil to lift out the shortbread. Using a serrated knife, slice the shortbread into 48 fingers 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. Set the cookies on a rack to cool completely.

The cookies will keep for weeks in an airtight container, although they’re best within a day or two of baking.

Notes:

As with all shortbread, the quality of the butter is key because there is so little to compete with it. Buy the freshest, highest-quality you can.

If you can’t find rice flour, substitute an equal amount of cornstarch, which will give a slightly different but still wonderfully delicate result. You could also just use all-purpose flour, but you’ll end up with a less satiny texture.

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