Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sweet Heat, Cayenne/Chipotle Chocolate Shortbread

A while back I mentioned doing research for a project that is rolling around in my brain.  I have recently read a few books about the working poor in America.  These are the people out there working their tails off, who are employed full time, qualify for little or no assistance, and have barely enough to make ends meet each week.  For them, meals are often optional.

I am in the process of creating a menu/shopping/cooking system to maximize the amount of good and good for you food for an imaginary family of four.  I am setting a budget of $50 dollars a week, but unlike a lot of those "eat for $1.50 a day" plans,  I am assuming my imaginary family starts with nothing in the kitchen.  It presents quite a challenge starting from scratch, as you try to maintain a budget while adding staples. ( It is something we take for granted.  How many time do we go to our fridge or pantry and declare there is nothing to eat, when in reality we would serve 20 people?  Maybe not a truly delicious meal  or even the same foods for everyone, but we could still pull it off.  Now imagine you have to feed 4 and there is truly nothing there.)

Advance with me to week 3 of the meal plan.  By now the family has been fed for 3 weeks and each week is accumulating a few basics for their pantry. Today they have flour, margarine, cocoa, sugar, salt and cayenne pepper and their hunger is satisfied, but their taste buds are not.  They want  a chocolate dessert, but it has to be cost effective and easy to prepare, plus it can't require any eggs because all the eggs for the week are already taken for other  menu items.  My job is to  supply a recipe and my choice is to amp it up with something non-traditional and tasty.

Chocolate Cayenne/Chipotle Shortbread

1 cup flour
1 good pinch salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder* ( I used 1/2 teaspoon chipotle because I like the taste better )
1/3 cup cocoa powder ( this makes it very chocolaty and can be reduced to 1/4 cup, but why?)
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 teaspoon water if needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl.   Cut the margarine into small pieces and slowly mix together with the dry ingredients.  If you have a food processor this will be neater, but I made it assuming my imaginary family does not have one.  It requires washing your hands very well and mixing and mixing with the tools God gave you.  If the mix does not come together in a smooth ball add water a few drops at a time until it does.  (It took me about 7 drops of water)  Pat the dough into a large circle on an ungreased baking sheet.  You want it to be a round that is about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the shortbread into slices but do not separate them.  Place it on a rack in the middle of the oven.  Let it cook for about 30 minutes.  When it is done but not browned, remove it from the oven and while it is hot cut the pieces once again at the original cut marks. ( What does a browned chocolate cookie look like anyway.  You might have to rely on your nose to check.)  Sprinkle with about a 1/2 teaspoon of additional sugar. ( I used clear cookie sprinkles)   Let cool on the baking sheet until it is completely cool to the touch.  Store in an airtight container for up to one week. These taste better  the day after baking.

The first taste test of this went to Son3, who thought it would be kind of funky tasting and weird.  I am happy to report he really did like it and probably would have eaten more if I had not also baked fudge brownies.  ( I try and bake several things at the same time during the summer.  Gets the kitchen hot just once).  I loved these.  As I said I used chipotle rather than cayenne.  They have about the same amount of heat, I just prefer the flavor of chipotle peppers.  these were very chocolaty.  If you are not a chocolate freak I would suggest adding only 1/4 cup of cocoa.  They were nice and hard but not brittle. They had a nice mouthfeel and did not crumb easily. To be completely honest I did not use margarine because we don't use it at all.  I used butter instead, but butter and non- whipped margarine tend to act the same in a baked recipe.  I know it altered the flavor a little and I would say if you can afford the butter consider yourself blessed, and use it.  My imaginary family can't afford it yet, but we are working toward it!

This would make a really nice baked gift for Christmas and would be fantastic at a cookie exchange. How wonderful would it be to be able to make several dozen cookies at the same time?  You can do that with this shortbread.  Plus they taste really good!

Enjoy with a piping hot cup of coffee or a Mexican Hot Chocolate if you are a true chocolate freak!

*If you don't like heat, simply don't add cayenne.  You might try cinnamon instead or just leave it plain.

If any of you have any truly cost effective recipes I would love to hear about them.

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