One of my biggest goals in life is to be the kind of person who can, at the drop of a hat, whip up something like a loaf of bread without even glancing at a recipe. I know, I know. I dream big. But I think it’s a valuable life skill—one that could give me a whole lot of street cred. Okay, perhaps only a little street cred in Pleasantville, but street cred all the same.
That goal, however, is only secondary to the thought of having a set of skills that could get me out of any situation. You never know when the only way out of an obscure and/or life-threatening situation could be a basket of muffins or some chocolate cake. Personally, I would be tempted to forgo my plans of pulling off the perfect jewel heist if the museum guard offered me a fresh baguette.
Baking is indeed a science, where things need to be put together in just the right way to get the desired result. Coming up with your own recipes is a tricky business that takes a whole lot of trial and error. In attempts to move closer to my goal of becoming the most threatening character on the block in Pleasantville, I checked out the book Ratio by Michael Ruhlman from my library over winter break. The idea of Ratio is that behind every recipe is a simple ratio to describe the relationships between the ingredients. Knowing the proportions of basic ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs and butter, and how they fit together is the key to cooking by the seat of your pants. And for me, Ratio was the key to total kitchen domination.
Reading through the book, everything seemed to make sense. For example, bread is essentially a 5:3 ratio of flour to water, with some yeast thrown in to the party, that is infinitely adaptable. It makes total sense. But then I read and re-read explanations, attempting to put them to use. And unfortunately, that’s when it hit me: ratios are the only part of basic math that make my brain to feel like it was trampled over by a Clydesdale the longer I try to figure them out. The idea makes sense, but attempting to adjust the ratios to units of measurement so that I could actually make them into recipes was a daunting task.
I wasn’t willing to give up on the dream completely, so I tried out the most basic ratio, a 1:1:1 cookie. I could totally handle that. I figured this balance of butter, sugar, and flour would yield something buttery, light and crisp almost like a shortbread. I was in the mood for chocolate, so I set to work devising a chocolate shortbread.
I was a little skeptical of my choices when the dough turned out to look more like dense brownie batter than shortbread dough. But I forged on, scooped it with a melon baller onto cookie sheets, and threw them into the oven, hoping for the best.
And the best was exactly what I got. They’re not pretty, but they tasted so wonderful–the perfect mix of sweet, salty and chocolatey. And even though it was for but a brief moment, I had conquered math and was rewarded with cookies.
Chocolate “Shortbread” Cookies
These aren’t your typical shortbread cookie, but that’s the closest I can come to describing them. I’d recommend refrigerating the dough for at least an hour before baking, but I’ve made them without doing that and they’ve turned out fine. They are delicate cookies, so make them small and allow them time to cool before removing them from the cookie sheet.
½ cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
4 oz. semisweet or dark chocolate, melted
½ cup sugar
½ cup flour (I use whole wheat)
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
Beat together the butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Add in the melted chocolate and stir until combined. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, stirring until just incorporated.
Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for 1-2 hours. Remove the dough from the fridge and preheat the oven to 350F. Scoop the dough out by rounded tablespoons onto a cookie sheet (using a melon baller is helpful to ensure that each cookie is the same size). Flatten the tops of the cookies using the palm of your hand and bake for 6-8 minutes, until crisp around the edges. Wait until the cookies cool for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.