As I begin to write this post, I'm not really sure where I should actually begin. I wanted to tell you about my week, but it has a mix of happy and quite a lot of sad and I'm not sure where to start. I suppose I should just start a week ago from now, at the beginning... which means I'll start off with the happy.
I've been friends with Kell, of Blackcurrant Photography, for over a decade. But I've never met her. Crazy, isn't it! Well, then again, it's 2016, so I suppose that's kinda common these days. Anyway, we finally met last Saturday in Sydney and treated ourselves to a high tea at the Shangri-La Hotel, perused The Rocks Markets and hung about the Opera House. It was a fantastic day, and I'm so happy to say that I've finally met this lovely lady!
Sunday was Mother's Day, which was a nice day. My mother-in-law came over and we had a light lunch and did some origami crafts with the kids. But later in the evening, I received word that my grandma in Indiana had just passed away. I haven't seen grandma since 2009, but she is in so many of my memories that it's like she was never that far away. We even used to write letters back and forth, and I can't even begin to tell you how thrilled she was to receive letters from her grand-daughter in Australia!
When I think of my childhood, I think of a lot of different things and all my family, but there is one thing that is synonymous with my childhood, and that's grandma's house during the holidays. Grandma worked hard each Thanksgiving and Christmas to make each visit so special, loving and delicious! She used to cook gigantic feasts to feed our big family, and spend so much time hand-making all sorts of pies, including my favorite - pumpkin pie.
She said she couldn't do cakes; she could never get them to turn out right. But pie crusts, oh yes, she could do those perfectly! I wish I could say that I can make perfect pie crusts, but I need a lot more practice before I can even say that I can make pie crusts! Haha!
I wanted to make something for grandma, something that I can make with as much as love, care and time as her pie crusts. I decided on cinnamon rolls. I can do those! On Monday, I made cinnamon rolls in her honor, and wrote a letter to her on my personal Facebook page so everyone knew how special she was and how much she was thought about and loved. My family loved the letter so much that they wanted to read it at the funeral, since I could not be there; my Aunt read my letter. I felt really good about that, and was happy that my letter made it to grandma. I hope grandma loved it, too.
Dearest Grandma, your pies (especially the pumpkin ones) always hold a special place in my heart. They were the best pies ever - homemade, gorgeously rustic, baked with love and all those well-toned kneading muscles. There aren't many things a person can bake that are full of these same things. Cookies are just cookies. A cake is just a cake. A muffin is just a muffin. They taste great, but they only take a few minutes to make; there isn't enough time to knead in the love. Homemade pies are different, though. You can taste the time it took to knead the dough by hand, to let it rest, roll it out, trim it, and pour in the silky pumpkin filling. You can taste all the hard work that went into a homemade pie in the flaky, buttery, golden crust. You can taste the love, and almost all those thoughts you may have been thinking while your hands carefully rubbed chunks of cold butter into a bowl full of flour until the chunks were just the right size. Honestly, homemade pies are among the best foods a person can bring out of the oven. Thank you for sharing your amazing pies with me every Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Grandma, I'm sorry I never got a chance to personally bake something for you straight from my own heart, straight from my own hands. Unfortunately, I'm not the best pastry maker. But, to me, the next best homemade food to bring out of the oven, is the good old cinnamon roll. Cinnamon rolls have lots of room in their cinnamon-swirled dough to hold the time and hard work involved to knead in the butter and flour; they have lots of room in their cinnamon-swirled dough to hold the love and care you give the dough, and the thoughts you may have been thinking while you rolled the dough up and smiled at the cinnamon and brown sugar falling out the sides of the gigantic roll you've just made. While baking, they fill the kitchen with that same smell as a homemade pie... a different, cinnamony smell, of course, but still that smell that reminds you of childhood and grandma's unbeatable cooking. It takes you back in time for just a moment.
I may not be able to make a perfect pie crust, but I can do cinnamon rolls. I made these for you today. You won't be able to taste them, but I know you can see them and I know you can see all my hard work, all my love and all my thoughts of you... baked in amongst those rustic cinnamon swirls. I know, too, that you are free now of your earthly tethers, and for this, while I am sad, I celebrate, because grandpa, cheeky old grandpa, has patiently been waiting a long time for you. You will be together once again, and this time, it's for forever. Enjoy your new life and don't get into too much trouble. I love you, grandma.
I have no grandmas or grandpas anymore, which is very sad, but I understand that this is the way that life works.
A couple of days later, I felt I needed to make something colorful and cheerful. That's when these chocolate freckle shortbread cookies were born.
I thought about just making chocolate freckles... just a disc of chocolate with sprinkles on top. But it didn't seem like enough. So I started off with a base of dark chocolate shortbread, dunked the tops of the shortbread discs in milk chocolate, then sprinkled over some Sweetapolita sprinkles (the Jersey Shore medley, to be exact!). It's sort of like a chocolate freckle on top of a chocolate cookie! How adorable are they! Even my sprinkle-hating daughter loved them!
I made some plain ones as well, just in case!
These cookies are really, really simple and require only basic ingredients that you most likely already have in your kitchen. You'll need to set aside an extra hour to make them, however, as you'll need to let the shortbread dough chill in the refrigerator before cutting it into shapes and baking.
And if you don't like circles, cut your cookies into any other shape you like! Butterflies, dog bones, stars, squares, anything!
And if you don't have any of Sweetapolita's gorgeous sprinkle medleys, use any other sprinkles you like, or even make your own sprinkle mix. Or just go buy some some of Sweetapolita's sprinkles already!
If you don't want to use sprinkles at all, don't! Just dunk the tops of the shortbread into melted chocolate and let it set. Once set, transfer some melted chocolate into a piping bag (or ziplog bag with a small corner cut) and drizzle the chocolate on the tops of the cookies in a big zig-zag motion.
These chocolate freckle shortbread cookies are great for kids' parties, or a fun after-school treat, or just for cheering you up. I shared some at school when I went to pick up the kids - they were a big hit, both with adults and children!
What do you think? A box full of these bright, colorful cookies would cheer anyone up, right? What do you like to bake to cheer yourself, or someone else, up?
Chocolate Freckle Shortbread Cookies
- 1 cup plain flour
- ⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- ½ cup 115g unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 100 g milk chocolate chopped*
- sprinkles of any shape, color or size, for decoration
- Sift flour, cocoa powder and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the flour mixture and mix until combined.
- Tip dough out onto a sheet of wax, or baking, paper, gently shape into a ball and flatten slightly. Roll the dough out to ¼-inch (6mm) thick. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Line a large cookie sheet with baking paper.
- Cut out desired shapes from the dough and place onto prepared cookie sheet, about 1 inch (2.5cm) apart (the cookies will hardly spread at all). Re-roll dough and cut again as necessary.
- Bake cookies for 10-15 minutes, depending on how big the cookies are (bigger cookies may need to be baked for a little longer). Cookies should be firm, and just slightly soft. I cut my cookies into 2-inch (5cm) circles and they took about 9 minutes.
- Let cookies cool on the sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, melt the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (do not let bowl touch the water, and do not get any water into the chocolate). Dip the tops of the cooled cookies into the melted chocolate and shake to remove excess chocolate, then completely cover the chocolate with sprinkles. Place cookies back onto the wire rack, sprinkle-side up, of course!
- If you don't want to use sprinkles, let the first coat of chocolate set, then place some melted chocolate into a piping bag (or a ziploc bag with a small bit of the corner cut off) and drizzle the melted chocolate in a big zig-zag motion over the tops of the cookies.
- Let the chocolate set (or place in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes for a quicker setting time), then enjoy with friends!