If you happen to have gone online or turned on a TV in the last few months, you probably already know about "The Cookies," Alison Roman's delicious shortbread taking the world by storm. Homemade chocolate chip cookies with crispy edges and gooey centers will always be a favorite of mine, but there's also something so wonderfully nostalgic about making these crunchy shortbread-style cookies at home.
The thing is, chocolate chunk shortbread remind me a little of the kind of chocolate chip cookies you eat from a sleeve, the ones that are programmed by food scientists to taste so delicious you can't eat just one, the ones my mom used to pack for us in our school lunch boxes along with a PB&J sandwich. My mom is a fabulous cook who has always kind of hated baking, and so when it comes to childhood nostalgia, Chips Ahoy and Famous Amos tug at my heart strings a little harder than Nestlé Tollhouse. And that's why, for me (and I'm guessing for many people who love them!), Roman's cookies are magic.
But this post isn't exactly about the cookies—it's just about these cookies, my chocolate chunk ghraybeh, inspired by Alison Roman's recipe. Ghraybeh is a Middle Eastern type of shortbread, made with clarified butter instead of sweet cream butter. And since butter makes up so much of shortbread's structure, this makes all the difference. With clarified butter, all of the water has been boiled off, and the milk solids have been separated out, leaving only butter fat, pure and simple. This means that, as long as you don't introduce a bunch more water in your cookie dough, shortbread that's made with clarified butter have a melt-in-your-mouth factor that's off the charts.
Developing a recipe for ghraybeh that truly tastes like chocolate chip cookies presented a few puzzles, because I didn't want to just make a batch of ghraybeh that happened to have chocolate chunks in them.
The most important puzzle is that ghraybeh absolutely must be made with powdered sugar, because there is no water present to dissolve grains of sugar as they bake. That means that you can't use brown sugar, which is a real problem when you want something to taste like chocolate chip cookies. I might even argue that the brown sugar is a more essential ingredient to their iconic flavor than the chocolate chips. I mean, they're obviously both important, but seriously, if you had to choose between a sugar cookie with chocolate chips in it, or a chipless chocolate chip cookie, which would you rather eat?? If you don't say the latter, you should really spend some time reflecting on your life and your priorities.
So I solved the powdered sugar problem by adding a little bit of molasses to the dough, which adds the flavor of brown sugar, without any of the graininess. It's important, however, not to add too much molasses, which could change the texture of the cookies and make them less melty by introducing moisture to the flour. But I found that exactly 1 1/2 teaspoons adds just the right amount of flavor, without sacrificing texture. And since vanilla extract is about 1/3 alcohol, a measly 1/2 teaspoon also won't make much of a difference. So we're good on moisture content, or lack thereof.
Salted butter, a key component of Roman's cookies, is the second puzzle I encountered while adapting my recipe to hers. I've always heard that when clarifying butter, the salts rise and sink with the milk solids, and although I haven't been able to find good data on this, I didn't want to risk it. So I opted for adding salt to the dough instead, which has the same overall effect, and ensures consistent batches.
Finally, I ran into a slight problem slicing through before baking. Ghraybeh are incredibly delicate cookies, and so introducing chocolate chunks into the dough is like... throwing a bunch of chocolate chunk shaped wrenches in the works. But I have found an easy solution, which doesn't mess with the ghraybeh's integrity. First, chop your chocolate into small bits, not big chunks. Second, don't chill the dough too little or too much. Too much and the chocolate gets chalky and difficult to chop through, but too little and the dough is too soft and crumbly. I found that exactly 45 minutes in the refrigerator does the trick. Third, even if you didn't listen to my advice, and left your chocolate in big chunks, and refrigerated the heck out of it, all you need to do is just decisively! whack! through! the dough!
I prefer these cookies with decent-sized chocolate chunks (as you can see from the photos), and so I use this technique whenever I make them. Simply place the knife about an inch above the log, and really whack down as fast as you can with your sharpest, heaviest knife (keep your non dominant hand behind your back for this). If you saw back and forth in a careful little mincing motion, your cookie dough will crumble apart. Instead, whack at them like you're Julia Child having a bad day, and they'll be just fine.
yield: about 2 dozen cookies
active time: 45 minutes
total time: 4 hours 30 minutes
clarify the butter (remove the water and dairy solids)
1 cup unsalted butter*
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has completely melted, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer. Keep an eye on the temperature and adjust it as necessary, so that the butter solids don't brown, and so that it doesn't boil out of control. Within the first couple minutes, the white solids will separate from the yellow liquid (they will float to the top, and then some of them will sink to the bottom).
- Remove from heat as soon as the simmering has quieted down a bit, but before it goes silent—this should take about 7 minutes. Use a spoon to carefully skim off any curdled solids from the surface, and then slowly pour the liquid into a measuring cup, leaving behind any of the solids left at the bottom of the pot. You should end up with 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons clarified butter (if you're 1 tablespoon short, feel free to top it off with 1 tablespoon olive oil).
- Leave the butter at cool room temperature until it solidifies, or refrigerate and then leave at room temperature to soften.
bake the cookies
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons clarified butter, at room temperature
125 grams powdered sugar (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
305 grams sifted all purpose flour (about 2 1/2 sifted cups)**
105 grams chocolate, chopped (don't leave any large chunks)***
Sea salt, for sprinkling
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter with a paddle attachment for about 1 minute, until the butter becomes a little fluffier. Add the powdered sugar, salt, molasses, and vanilla, and continue to beat for about 3 minutes, until it's light and fluffy.
- Add the flour and mix. Once there are a few dry flour spots, add the chocolate chunks and continue mixing until you can form the dough into a ball.****
- Move the dough to a long sheet of wax paper, shape it roughly into a log, fold the wax paper over, and use an offset spatula or cutting board to apply pressure over the part where the two sheets of wax meet. Use this pressure to shape it into a round or rectangular log and place it in the refrigerator to solidify for 45 minutes. (Forming it into 2 separate logs will make this easier, if you're having any trouble).
- Preheat the oven to 325° F once the dough is almost ready to take out of the refrigerator.
- Once the log is solid enough to hold its shape, slice off pieces that are between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets with some space between them (see above photo).*** Sprinkle with a little sea salt (gentry press it into the dough just a tiny bit).
- Bake for about 25 minutes, before they start turning golden-brown. Cool on the parchment for about 10 minute before enjoying.
* I use European butter (because it's most easily available where I live), which has less water. If you're using American-style butter, use an additional 2 tablespoons, because yours might end up reducing more in volume.
** If you weigh all your ingredients, you shouldn't have any issues, but measuring with cups is a little less exact, so you need to be a bit more cautious if you don't have a scale. Be sure to sift the flour before measuring 2 1/2 cups (I sift directly into the measuring cup with a flexible cutting board underneath to catch the spillover), and be sure to measure level cups by sweeping the tops with a straight edge (not packing it in). Too much flour will make the dough unable to stick together.
*** If you didn't chop your chocolate chunks finely enough, it will be difficult to slice through the dough because it will start to crumble apart. If the first slice seems like it's crumbling apart, have no fear, this is what to do: use the sharpest chef's knife you have and get ready to be super careful. Hold the knife about an inch above where you're going to cut and then really quickly and forcefully whack through the dough. You don't need to lift the knife up very high, just really go for it from right above the dough. The faster and more forcefully you hack through, the less it will crumble. If anything does crumble apart, simply encourage it back together on the cookie sheet. I figured this out this the hard way while recipe developing, but found a way to work around it and decided to keep my chocolate chunks this way because I like the way it looks (as you can see, some of my chocolate chunks are quite chunky)—it just requires a little extra finesse (/brute force). Or you could just chop the chocolate finely. Either way you're fine!
**** A perfect ghraybeh dough will seem crumbly when you mix it together, but it will stick together into a ball when compressed in your hand. If you measure everything by weight, you won't have an issue, but if you do have an issue, don't sweat it: if the dough won't stick together, simply add an additional tablespoon of softened butter and work everything together, adding another one if it really needs it.