Sunday, February 28, 2016

Chocolate Fudge "Peek Freans"

There were two spots in the kitchen that I frequented most growing up, aside from the obvious fridge and freezer (for ice cream, duh). There was the lower corner cupboard to the left of the sink - that's where we kept opened bags of Doritos. It's where we also stored a giant Costco-sized pack of chocolate chips, which I never nestled into my lap on the couch. Never.

I was also drawn to that upper cupboard above the microwave where we kept big blocks of chocolate for baking (and gnawing on), the occasional box of Pop Tarts and packs of cookies. Cookies weren't all equal in my books - I had my clear favourites. Fudgee-O's topped my list and Oreo's were OK. I remember fig newtons were always in stock and once in a while you'd find some brand of chocolate chip. But I stuck to Fudgee-O's, the others just weren't worth it for me. We also kept tea up there so I wasn't always going in only for cookies if you can believe that.

I can remember a time when my friends were raving about Peek Freans and I swear I had no idea what they were but I would pretend to know because, well why the heck did I not know about a cookie that caused this much talk?! Despite "Peek Freans" being the name of a biscuit company, people were almost always referring to the ones with the sugar coated fruit jelly center. Once I figured out what everyone was talking about, I realized why I didn't know of them... they were not chocolate.

As much as I did actually enjoy these fruit cream biscuits, I wished the center was chocolate.

The difference between biscuits and cookies is two things: shape and texture. Biscuits are typically thin, flat and crunchy. Cookies are thick, thin, smooth or lumpy and chewy, crisp or all of the above. Cookies usually have more inclusions like dried fruit, oats or chocolate chips while biscuits are more simple.

Today's recipe makes very crisp and crunchy buttery biscuits. They have more crunch than a sugar cookie but less intense than a traditional biscotti. It starts with what looks like a shortbread recipe with a few simple yet important modifications:

1) Proportion - the ratio of flour to butter is higher.
2) Leavening - this recipe uses baking powder. Tiny air bubbles leads to crispness when dry.
3) Liquid - milk in place of egg coaxes the dough to come together and helps encourage a little gluten development to add structure and strength to these cookies. An egg would otherwise add the tenderness that sugar cookies are known for.

The method is the same: cream butter with sugar until pale and fluffy, beat in vanilla and milk, beat in dry ingredients.

Going the extra mile to cream the butter and sugar until sufficiently fluffy and nearly white in colour will help guarantee crispness. It's those tiny little air bubbles that will build a fine structure in the baked cookie and give it snap. When you first attempt to beat in the milk you might find that it wont want to blend because fat and water don't care for each other much. To get a smooth dough, dribble the milk in slowly while mixing.

After 30 minutes chill time, the dough is ready to roll. Grab a 2-inch round cookie cutter and cut out as many circles as you can. Then grab a small 3/4-inch cutter and cut out little circles from the center of half of those cut-outs. If you don't have a cutter that tiny, you can use the back end of a large piping tip or even an apple corer.

Now for the filling I always wanted... it's a combination of dark chocolate, milk, icing sugar, cocoa and salt. The result is a thick, slightly sandy intense fudge filling that sets perfectly between these two cookies.

You could fill them with peanut butter and jelly, buttercream, dulce de leche or raspberry jam. But I dreamed of chocolate and you know how the saying goes... "Follow your dreams".


Short Stack Chocolate Fudge Sandwich Cookies
Makes about 18 sandwich cookies

Cookie dough:
1 2/3 cups (235g) all-purpose flour
heaped ¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ cups (120g) sifted icing sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp (30ml) milk
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

Fudge filling:
85g/3oz bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), finely chopped
4 tbsp (60ml) milk
¾ cup (75g) sifted icing sugar
3 tbsp (18g) cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Sift together flour, salt and baking powder into a medium bowl and whisk to blend evenly. Beat butter and icing sugar with a mixer at medium-high speed for about 5 minutes, until very white and airy. Beat in vanilla extract. Then beat in milk, 1 tablespoon at a time until well incorporated. Add the flour mixture and beat on low-speed until just combined.

Shape the dough into a 6-inch disk, wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper.

Roll dough out to 1/4-inch thickness between two sheets of parchment paper. Cut out 2-inch round rounds, re-rolling scraps as necessary. Using a small cookie cutter, apple corer or back end of a large piping tip, cut a smaller ¾-inch circle from the center of half of the rounds. Place cookies 1 inch apart on prepared baking trays. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

To prepare filling, combine chocolate and milk in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on medium power for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Sift together icing sugar, cocoa, and salt in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk to blend. Add chocolate mixture to sugar mixture and stir just until smooth and glossy. The mixture will thicken as it cools. Spread about 1 teaspoon evenly over 18 whole cookies and then top each one with a cut-out cookie.
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