Monday, February 12, 2018

Hot Chocolate Heart Cookies

Whether you support Valentine's Day or not, it's another reason to just eat more chocolate so I am down!

Love is great. And chocolate is even better... but really, aren't they one in the same?

I vote YES.

These cookies came about from re-purposing scrap pastry dough. Often when I make a tart, I have extra dough that I trim from the edges and the thought of just "discarding" it pains me so SO hard.

So I just don't do it.

I either bake the random scraps and snack on them. Or I take the time to re-roll them, cut them into shapes and bake them off. What did I learn? Cut-out cookies made from chocolate pastry dough is DOPE. Flaky, crisp, buttery - so much more interesting than a firm sugar cookie.

Now I purposely make this dough to bake into cookies.

It's the "fraisage" technique that makes them so crisp. This French technique is a method of dispersing cold butter evenly into the dough so that you get a very fine flakiness as opposed to big pockets. Sometimes for pie dough it is desirable to have some larger bits of butter, but if the pieces are too large, then they will just melt and leave holes in the crust. Since we are making small individual cookeis, we certainly don't want holes.

Fraisage involves gathering up the shaggy dough and using the palm of your hand to smear portions of it across your work surface, only going over each portion of dough once. You will be able to see bits of cold butter spreading out as you smear. Once you do this, gathering the dough into a cohesive ball becomes easy.

They are rich, so so chocolaty and not too sweet. All they need is a sprinkle of sugar - and a really good sprinkle. Don't be shy with it. You'll need to brush the cookie dough hearts with some heavy cream to ensure the sugar sticks, and as you sprinkle it on some of it will begin to dissolve in the cream so just keep sprinkling until the sugar stays. It will caramelize a bit and add a lovely candy-like crunch. The additional sweetness is welcome to offset the bitter cocoa.

Now the kicker - a bit of cayenne pepper and cinnamon in with the sugar sprinkle. UNREAL. Really - even if you don't like spice just try this out. It is a true match mate and there's a reason why the Aztecs so cleverly paired chili and spice with chocolate - it just works!

Their mild sweetness, exotic spice and crispy crunchy quality make them utterly addictive. I equate them to potato chips of the pastry world, so get ready for some serious snacking!

Hot Chocolate Heart Cookies
makes about 3 dozen cookies

For the dough:
¼ cups (180g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp (35g) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder 
¼ cup (55g) packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp (12g) granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ cup (113g) very cold butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large egg 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the topping:
2 tbsp granulated sugar
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1-2 tbsp 35% whipping cream

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, both sugars and salt until evenly blended. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut or rub butter bits into flour until it resembles coarse bread crumbs. The butter should be well dispersed with some oat flake-sized pieces remaining, but there should be no dusty flour left in the bowl. Use a fork to beat the egg well with vanilla extract in a small bowl until very fluid and drizzle into flour mixture while gently stirring with the fork. Continue to mix dough until dry ingredients are moistened and it holds together in clumps. Turn dough out onto a clean work surface and bring together to form a mass.

Now apply the fraisage technique to form a cohesive dough. Use the heel of your hand to push portions of dough away from you, smearing it along the work surface to distribute fat into the flour. Repeat this process up to 5 times total, but only go over each portion of dough once or the pastry will become tough. You should be able to see streaks of butter marbled throughout the dough, which will give it a slightly flaky texture. Gather dough into a ball using a bench scraper, flatten into a disk, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface roll dough out to 1/8-inch thickness. Use a heart-shaped cutter (or any shape of choice) to cut out as many shapes as you can and carefully transfer them to prepared baking sheet using a large off-set spatula. Gather scraps of dough, re-roll it and cut out more circles until most of the dough is used up. Place the trays in the refrigerator to let the dough rounds chill for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together sugar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper until evenly combined. Brush each cookie lightly with cream and generously (and I mean generously) sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the cookies. Be sure to use up all, or at least most, of this sugar mixture because it gives the cookies a lovely crunch and sparkle.

Bake until crisp and slightly puffed, 9-10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
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