Spicy Pepita and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

Photograph by David Schmit

I had the great pleasure for a couple of years to be a guest contributor for an on-line magazine called Spezzatino .  It was produced by a small group of dedicated foodies who wanted to make a difference by giving all the profits from the sale of the magazine to the Healthy Food Bank.  Unfortunately, the magazine had to stop production—it’s hard to sustain anything on a budget of volunteers.  They put together an inspired and beautiful magazine, giving it their best shot for the years it was in production.

Each issue was dedicated to a single subject about food.  They would ask folks like my friend David Schmit (an ace food photographer) and me to submit recipes and photos for a particular issue.   This recipe, a riff on a chocolate shortbread, is from Volume 11 – Chocolate.

1/3 cup (1 3/4 ounces) unsalted shelled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (1 ounce) blue corn meal
1/2 cup (2 ounces) cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending on amount of heat desired
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and cut into ½ inch pieces
3/4 cup (5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Toast pepitas on a small sheet pan or aluminum pie plate for 8 – 10 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant.  Remove to another pan and allow to cool; roughly chop into pieces.  Raise the temperature of the oven to 375ºF.

While the pepitas are toasting, line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a Silpat and place a 9 or 10 inch cake ring on it. (Alternatively, use a 9 or 10-inch springform pan lined with parchment paper instead of the parchment lined sheet pan.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, cocoa powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together.  Continue to beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated and well blended.

Add the flour, cocoa powder, and salt mixture and incorporate until just blended.  Stir in the cooled, chopped pepitas seeds.

Set the springform pan or cake ring on the parchment lined baking sheet.  Using your fingers, press dough evenly into the ring onto the parchment paper.  Using a fork, prick the surface of the dough in lines to assist in cutting into triangles later and to allow air to escape during baking.

Put the pan in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. Bake the shortbread until firm about 25-30 minutes.  Let cool slightly, and then run a knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the shortbread.

Immediately cut the shortbread into 16 triangles following the lines that where made earlier with the fork.  Let cool on the pan before storing in an airtight container at room temperature.

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