I don’t know about you, but when I think of a dish or a recipe I subconsciously see its colour scheme, and in this case the combination of dark chocolate, khaki and camouflage green is one I like and also one that to my mind, transcends the seasons. Maybe it’s because I can envisage sultry, dark Arabian nights with the scent of spices wafting down dusty alleys, a flip-flop full of sand, just as easily as I can imagine scoffing a box of Thornton’s as I beach myself in front of the TV in the depths of winter.
Shortbread is a piece of cake…no, wait…it’s a piece of pastry, actually. At its most basic it’s just 3 ingredients, worst case scenario it’ll take you 40 mins. Admittedly this version has another process tagged on the end and another ingredient thrown in, but you catch my drift? The addition of cornflour will give the shortbread a more refined, lighter texture…less pastry like. Some recipes call for rice flour for the same texture changing reasons, but if you had neither in the house then plain old plain flour will do the job.
These are currently on the menu as an accompaniment to an espresso and Tia Maria ice cream, but you’d be perfectly justified in making a batch just to serve with coffee.
(makes about 20 fingers, 2cm wide by 8cm long. Roughly.)
112g soft butter
55g caster sugar
112g plain flour
1 level teaspoon ground cardamom (about 40 pods worth)
A pinch of salt
200g dark chocolate, preferably couverture* broken into pieces
Begin by crushing the cardamoms in a pestle and mortar, bashing the husks off and then pulverizing the black seeds. You can either pick out the debris by hand or pass it through a not-too-fine sieve. You need 1 level teaspoon in total.
Grease a small baking sheet with a dob of butter.
Add the sugar to the butter and beat with an electric whisk and mix for just a minute until combined and at the beginning of what in cake making is the ‘pale and fluffy’ stage. Getting air into the mix is not the name of the game here, creaming the two ingredients together properly is.
Sit a sieve over the bowl and tip in the flour and the cornflour. Sift it into the butter mix, bringing it together with a spoon before eventually forming a ball that leaves the sides clean.
Use your fingers or the back of a spoon to press this into a flat square or rectangle about a 1cm thick. You don’t need to try and make it fit the baking tray, just tidy up the edges as best you can and get it roughly level. Prick it with a fork in a regimental fashion, making sure you go all the way through to the bottom each time.
Chill it in the fridge for a good 20 mins.
Bake at 170 ⁰C for 20 mins but start checking at about 17, we’re looking for something the colour of builders’ sand, rather than the Seychelles variety - you won’t be able to achieve the bleached look like they achieve commercially by cooking at this temperature, but at the same time we don’t want dark edges.
The shortbread will harden as it cools on being taken out of the oven, so a) don’t panic if it feels soft to the touch and b) use a sharp knife to cut it into fingers before it cools. Do this in the tin, don’t be tempted to turn it out.
Cool the tin on a wire rack for 10 mins, then use a palette knife to slide them off and cool them for a further 10 minutes on the wire rack.
Meanwhile, back at the stove: ¼ fill a saucepan with water and bring to a gentle simmer. Sit a Pyrex bowl over the top with the dark chocolate in it and melt it gently.
The size of the bowl will clearly determine the depth of the melted chocolate and therefore how far up the shortbread finger gets chocolate when dipped in it, but you could always use a spoon to encourage the chocolate further up the biscuit, as I do. I like to leave only enough biscuit ‘exposed’ to hold between thumb and finger, but this practice does introduce the possibility of rogue crumbs attaching themselves to your otherwise perfectly smooth chocolate.
As you dip each biscuit, waggle off the excess, shake of the last drip and lay each one on a piece of baking paper, sat on a tray that will fit in the fridge (in which you have already cleared a space to accommodate it).
*Couverture chocolate is confectioners’ chocolate that has a high cocoa butter content which doesn’t require it to be tempered, making it far more user-friendly for dipping and coating.