The sweet and salty taste phenomenon has soared to new levels over the last couple of years. What was once depicted only in chocolate-covered pretzels has taken on a life all its own. Something about the sensation of smooth sweetness with a lingering, salty bite on the tongue is irresistible for many. It has given rise to things like Chubby Hubby Ice Cream, Pretzel M&Ms, salted caramel everything, and oodles more. A favorite I discovered quite a few years ago is chocolate-covered popcorn. I salivate just thinking about it. Like a lot of people I’ve always devoured chocolate-covered pretzels, but what got me diving head-first into the sweet/salty craze was salted caramel. I first had it in the form of frosting on a cupcake earlier this year and now I think that salted anything is pure heaven.
These cookies sneak the sweet/salty combination since it’s not overly obvious from looking at them that they’re salty. The tang of salt on the tongue when you take your first bite is unexpected, but much like a John Mayer/Taylor Swift duet – the unexpected quickly turns out to be surprisingly delightful.
These cookies are called “world peace cookies” in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours and is a recipe that originated with Pierre Herme. One of Dorie’s neighbors was convinced that if everyone got to enjoy these cookies on a daily basis then peace and happiness would prevail. He is really on to something. I don’t know about the universe, but these cookies sure make my little corner of the world brighter and more peaceful! Not only are these cookies delicious as baked below, but if you feel the need to stash some of the dough in the refrigerator or freezer for an “emergency”, the cold dough is just as good (would it be a sin if I said better?) as the baked version. I may have ended up with less cookies than intended due to sneaking pieces of just-mixed dough, and then thin slices (that’s how I justified it, albeit there ended up being many thin slices) of the cold dough straight from the fridge.
The original recipe for these calls for chocolate chips/chunks to be added, but I wasn’t sure about that, plus I thought a little extra salt would be nice, so I did some experimenting. I divided the dough into four and made a slightly different version for each: one was made plain – no chocolate chips and no extra salt; two was made plain with extra sea salt sprinkled on top; three had chocolate chips but no extra salt; and four had chocolate chips and extra salt. The clear winner for me is the recipe I have written below, which is the plain cookie with a bit of extra salt sprinkled on top. I didn’t think the chips were necessary, and made cutting the log a bit more difficult, and that extra punch of salt on top really takes these cookies over the edge.
What’s your favorite sweet/salty dessert or snack?
Salted Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
Prep Time: 10 minutes (active), 3 hours (inactive)
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar
¼ granulated sugar
½ teaspoon fleur de sel or ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Whisk together the flour, cocoa and baking soda in a small bowl; set aside.
2. Beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.
3. With the mixer off, add the dry ingredients. Turn the mixer on and off low speed (pulse) for a second or two about 5 times so that the flour mixture gets incorporated. Then mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, just until the flour disappears into the dough (the dough will look crumbly).
4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide it in two. Shape each half into a 9-inch log. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you've frozen the dough, you don't need to defrost before baking - just slice the logs into cookies and baking the cookies 1 minute longer.)
5. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
6. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are ½-inch thick. Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Sprinkle a small amount of extra salt on top of each round.
7. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes - they won't look done, and won't be firm, but that's how they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.