Halloween painting of cocoa shortbread cookies with bats.

Trick or Treat Cocoa Shortbread. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Trick or Treat. I’m not here, am I? Because I’ve gone to post on ArtEpicurean for pre-Halloween fun. Please follow me over there for a delicious treat, my beloved cocoa shortbread cookies tricked out in Halloween costumes. Usually, I don’t break out this recipe until Christmas, but I wanted to do something special for Jane, a woman after my own heart who posts recipes inspired by or accompanied by paintings.

I’ll give you a thumbnail of the cookie painting, but please go visit Jane’s blog for the recipe. You won’t be sorry. Just click on the link that says ArtEpicurean in the first paragraph if you haven’t done so already, or scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and click ArtEpicurean in my links section. We’ll save you some cookies.

P.S. I have to be away early this morning through late afternoon. If something goes wrong with the link, please  use your initiative and Google “Art Epicurean” to get your recipe. I’ll check in as soon as I can — before 6 PM PST. — Sharyn

P.P.S. The link in the first paragraph works now, thanks to Sally B. Sorry that it failed earlier.

Update: It is now approaching Christmas 2014 and the ArtEpicurean link no longer works so I have decided to re-post my cocoa shortbread recipe here as a service to all lovers of shortbread and chocolate. As always, using the best-quality ingredients you can find or afford will yield the most delicious shortbread.

Cocoa Shortbread

Break into small pieces, 2 sticks butter*. Soften for a few seconds in microwave. Measure 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 Tablespoons* Work sugar into butter — I like to use my hands, but you can use a spoon if you like. Whisk together 2 cups sifted unbleached flour and 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted. Add flour/cocoa mixture to sugar and butter and mix until blended. Add vanilla extract to taste.*

Chill dough for at least an hour. This step is important for both flavor and texture.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Shape cookies by into small balls with hands and then smush your thumb into the center to make thumbprint cookies. Or mix equal parts unsweetened cocoa powder and powdered sugar in a shaker and use that to “flour” a work surface. Work with half to a quarter of the chilled dough at a time, depending on your skill and the coldness of the day. Flatten dough into a pat (like pie crust). “Flour” your rolling pin, cookie cutters and board or counter with the cocoa/powdered sugar mixture (I like to use a marble slab and rolling pin for rolled cookies). Roll out dough to 1/4 or 1/2 inch thickness and cut with decorative cutters. Place on ungreased baking sheets and decorate with colored sugar.*

Bake for twenty minutes at 300. For best results, rotate baking trays from back to front and from bottom to top rack at the ten-minute mark. Use caution in removing cookies from baking sheets — they are tender when hot and can break easily if you touch an adjoining cookie while working your spatula under another.

Note on ingredients: You can use unsalted butter if you prefer. If you do, add just a pinch of kosher salt to the dough to avoid a flat taste. I like to use one stick of unsalted butter and one stick of salted butter and omit the salt. Use vanilla extract, rather than artificial vanilla — it costs more, but you don’t have to use a lot, the flavor is superior and it does not have dodgy chemicals in it. You can also make your own vanilla if you have vanilla beans and spirits lying around. You could also try infusing the butter with ground vanilla beans instead of using extract (I haven’t tried this option yet). Coarse colored sugar works better than fine sugar, which can end up being absorbed into the dough as it baks. Nevertheless, I have had some success with making my own colored sugar out of either turbinado or white sugar by shaking it in a jar with food coloring. Shake well and save money. Turquoise, purple, hot pink and light lime green look beautiful on the dark dough, as would a light orange yellow. Mocha enthusiasts could add a pinch of instant espresso powder to the dough.

Enjoy!