Among the heart-shaped cookies, candies and cakes proliferating this time of year, one of my favorites is this Mexican chocolate shortbread cookie. I can never resist the introduction of spice in pastry, so I put together a cookie that celebrates the lovely marriage of chocolate and spice with just a hint of chile.
The use of the heart as a metaphor to express romantic love and affection comes from the Middle Ages and the days of Chaucer. It was more directly popularized in the 19th century as a symbol for Valentine’s Day, which originated with the Feast of Saint Valentine, named for Valentinus, a Christian saint who performed weddings. And let’s not forget Cupid, the son of Venus and the Greek god of attraction, whose arrows contain the prospect of uncontrollable desire.
Since chocolate, in all its refined sumptuousness, has come to evoke endless desire in our day, it seems appropriate that it, too, is a central part of our modern profession of love. This cookie contains a good amount of cocoa, a measure of sweetness and enough butter to create a crispy, crumbly expression of love, no doubt a suitable object of desire.
- This recipe calls for Dutched cocoa powder, which has a milder flavor, but I've also used natural cocoa powder.
- I use a 2 1/2” heart-shaped cookie cutter but use any shape or size you wish. The yield may be different. Just keep the size uniform so they bake evenly and keep a close eye on the baking time if they are much smaller.
- Be careful not to overbake or the cookies will take on a bitterness. Test for doneness by lightly nudging the side of a cookie with your fingertip. If it moves without resistance, it’s done. If you prefer, coat the cookies in sugar after removing from the oven and cooling a couple of minutes so you can see more clearly see how they’re baking. Or bake one first as a test to see how long it takes to bake in your own oven.
- If you enjoy Mexican chocolate flavors, try rich and creamy Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream.
Makes fourteen 2 1/2 “ cookies
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
heaping 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 oz (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temerpature
2/3 cup (4 3/4 oz) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar + good pinch cinnamon, for dusting
Whisk flour, cocoa, salt and spices together.
Beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla and almond extracts until creamy and smooth but not fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated. Be careful not to overmix.
Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Cover with another sheet of plastic wrap and flatten the dough. Roll it into an even, flat 1/4” thick disc. Slide onto a baking sheet or pizza pan and chill until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment or silpats. Combine 1/2 cup sugar with a good pinch of cinnamon.
Peel off the plastic wrap from both sides of the cookie dough. Cut out heart shaped cookies and dip them in cinnamon sugar to coat evenly. Place on the baking sheet. Bake in lower third of the oven for 20 - 22 minutes. Cool pan on a wire rack.