Once, I gave my former Valentine a box of chocolate shortbread tied up with a red ribbon, and a big, heartfelt smile.
It wasn’t a hit. The simple, crisp cookies weren’t the gooey brownies he was hoping for, and my expectant grin couldn’t make up for the evident lack of fudge.
But if Valentine’s Day is partly about fulfilling one’s heart’s desires, then chocolate shortbread needed to be back in my gift box. I adore them, and my current Valentines (husband and daughter) do, too.
The thing about chocolate shortbread cookies is that, even when adorably heart-shaped, they might seem too plain for a special gift. But a dunk in melted chocolate and a sprinkling of freeze-dried raspberries add richness and crimson pizazz. Other garnishes — flaky sea salt, chopped pistachios, crushed candy canes, toasted coconut — can also be appealing, if you want to play around.
I’ve modified my chocolate shortbread recipe since that ill-fated Feb. 14. This version is lighter, more crumbly and even more chocolate-y. However, the egg yolk, which makes the cookies particularly tender, also makes them slightly fragile, so I roll the dough extra thick. This helps keep the hearts from shattering — never a good omen on Valentine’s Day, and inconvenient the rest of the year, too.
Another tweak is to use salted, European-style butter. “European” refers to two things: that the butter’s fat content is higher than sticks of regular supermarket butter, and that the cream was cultured before it was churned. (Some labels might read “cultured” butter.) When cream is cultured, it is allowed to ferment for a day or two, giving it a hazelnut-like tang compared to fresh sweet cream. Think of the difference between heavy cream and sour cream, and you’ll know what I mean.
Being a dark chocolate lover, I like to dip the shortbread in extra-bitter chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate you use, the less sweet it is. I usually go for 72 percent, which strikes a good balance. But semisweet, milk and white chocolate also work. Or use some of each so you’ll have a nice mix of flavors — and, just as importantly on Valentine’s Day, a spectacularly pretty gift box.
Recipe: Chocolate Shortbread Hearts