Growing up, my mom was always in charge of Christmas dessert. During the rest of the year, desserts were typically store-bought or made from a box mix, but Christmastime was a different story. She would spend the week leading up to the holidays baking batch after batch of delicious, homemade cookies, both for our own holiday table and to send platters of cookies to friends. She had about 6 or 7 cookie staples, and then would typically try out a new recipe as well. One of her staple cookie recipes was for a flaky, buttery shortbread cookie, dipped in chocolate and sprinkles – a definite family favorite.
As I got older, I began to love helping out with the Christmas baking. After I graduated from grad school and wasn’t able to get back to New Jersey early enough to help Mom with the baking, I began taking on a batch or two on my own. In the past couple of years, this has evolved into me taking on the holiday desserts completely (to my mom’s relief!) Last year, I moved away from the Christmas cookies and went in a completely different direction, baking a cake. This year, I decided to go back to Christmas cookies – mainly because it gave me an excuse to try a whole host of new recipes! Some recipes were completely different from what Mom used to make, while others were similar ideas but with a twist. That’s where these shortbread cookies come in. The addition of toasted coconut takes the cookie in a slightly different direction, although at the end of the day it’s still a dipped shortbread – tender yet slightly crisp, flaky, buttery, with a touch of chocolate.
For the cookies:
- 1 cup shredded coconut*
- 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1¼ tsp. coarse salt (I used fleur de sel; any coarse salt will work)
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- bittersweet chocolate, melted
- toasted shredded coconut*
Toast the coconut. This may be done by cooking in a skillet over medium heat, or toasting in a 350˚ F oven for about 10 minutes. The coconut should be stirred occasionally and toasted until lightly browned, being careful not to burn it. Set aside to cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Blend in the salt and vanilla. Add in the flour and mix on low speed just until incorporated and a dough begins to form. Mix in the toasted coconut, being careful not to over-mix. Press the dough into a disc shape and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill at least 1 hour or until firm.
Preheat the oven to 325˚ F. Line baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to approximately ¼-inch thickness (mine were on the thin side, making them slightly crispier). Use a cookie cutter or pastry cutter to cut out cookie shapes. I used a 2-inch square cookie cutter. Alternatively, use a pizza cutter or a ruffled pastry wheel to cut the dough into squares. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Reroll dough scraps and repeat as needed.
Bake until light golden and crisp, rotating the pans halfway through baking, about 12-14 minutes. Baking time will vary depending on the size/shape of your cookies, so watch them carefully. Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Once cooled, the cookies can be dipped in the melted chocolate and sprinkled with additional toasted coconut. Place on wax or parchment paper after dipping and allow to set completely before removing.
*The original recipe calls for unsweetened coconut in the cookies and sweetened shredded coconut for the topping. All I had was sweetened, so I used that for both. If you use unsweetened coconut in the dough, add an additional tablespoon of sugar.
Yield: 4-5 dozen cookies
Source: Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen; original recipe from Bon Appetit