These cookies must be made with the best quality chocolate so it becomes deeply, satisfyingly chocolate. Mixing in some almond meal makes it a more substantial cookie with a denser bite. It will be perfect to leave out for Santa with a glass of milk so that he can re-energize himself before he heads off to his next delivery on Christmas eve. Weren’t you told the same story when you were little? We don’t do it at our house. The dog will eat it before Santa. Maybe this year we will leave Santa a bit of brandy.

Intensely Chocolate Cookies Enriched With Ground Almonds

Prep: 45 minutes 
Cook: 10 to 12 minutes per tray 
Inactive: 4 hours or more for dough to firm up in refrigerator
Level: Relatively easy
Makes:  At least 50
Oven Temperature: 350F (175C) Gas Mark 4
Can recipe be doubled? Yes
Make ahead? Rolled dough can be refrigerated up to 2 days. Cookies keep well up to 10 days. Just be sure cookies are baked through until crisp. These are not meant to be soft cookies.      

Ingredients

4.23 oz (120g) unsalted butter softened
4.23 oz (120g) caster/granulated sugar
6 oz (170g) 70% bittersweet chocolate*
6.7 oz (190g) finely ground almonds/almond meal
7.12 oz (202g) all-purpose/plain flour
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt**
1 egg
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
* I use Valrhona -Guanaja 70% cocoa minimum, pure cocoa butter or Scharffenberger 70% bittersweet chocolate bar.
** Omit if using salted butter.

Method

Melting the chocolate using the microwave
1. In a medium size bowl, break chocolate into smaller pieces and melt chocolate in microwave at medium-hi for 2 minutes. Stir. Microwave another 1 to 2 minutes. Stir to help melt any remaining chunks of chocolate in the residual heat. I do not bother to break up my thick and chunky chocolate.
2. If you use smaller sized chocolates, shorten your microwave time accordingly. Better to leave some chunks to melt in the residual heat then to leave it in the microwave to melt completely and risk burning them into a grainy mess. Cool.

Melting the chocolate over the stove
1. Have a pot and a heatproof bowl ready. The bowl should fit into the pot snugly and sit about 2.5″ (6cm) off the bottom of the pot. Fill the saucepan with 1.5″(4cm) of water. The idea is to not have the bottom of the bowl touch the water.
2. Bring the water in the pot to simmer. Then, add broken up chocolate into the bowl and place it over the pot.  Stir to help chocolate melt. When almost all of the chocolate has melted, remove bowl from the pot. Stir to melt remaining chocolate pieces. I do not leave the chocolate to melt completely in the pot as if I leave it too long on the heat, it might burn and turn into a grainy mess. Cool.

Mixing almonds into cooled chocolate
1. Check to see that there are no chocolate lumps. Stir in almonds into the chocolate. Set aside.

The dough
1. Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
2. I use my KitchenAid, with the balloon whisk attached. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed. 2 minutes into beating, stop mixer and give batter a quick stir to ensure even mixing. Remember to scrape the bottom of bowl too.
3. Turn on the mixer and continue for another 1 minutes. Batter should be light coloured and fluffy.
4. With the mixer at lowest speed, add 1/2 of egg. Mix 30 seconds, then, stop the machine, give batter a few quick stirs to ensure even mixing.
5. Start mixer at lowest speed again and pour in remaining egg and vanilla extract. Continue mixing on low for 30 seconds. Stop machine and scrape bowl.
6. Mix again on low for just 30 seconds. Stop machine.
7. It should take you no longer then 2 minutes to incorporate all the flour. Any longer and you will have overworked the dough and might get tough cookies.
8. If using a KitchenAid, switch to the flat beater. With mixer at low-medium speed, gradually add in the flour. Once, the flour has been almost incorporated, stop machine. Quickly and lightly, scrape bottom and sides of bowl to fully incorporate flour.
9. With machine on low-medium, add ground almonds/chocolate mixture and mix until there are no white streaks.
10. Stop machine and use a spatula to incorporate any remaining streaks of butter dough. If incorporating by hand, with a spatula, slash through and fold dough until evenly mixed.
11. If the dough does not appear to come together, add 1 Tablespoon of beaten egg.

Rolling out dough and chill in refrigerator
1. Transfer the dough into a large food safe plastic bag. You might have to use 2 if yours is not as large as mine.*
The method outlined below, has become my preferred way of rolling and storing dough. It reduces mess, over flouring and overworking the dough. 

2. With the dough in the plastic bag, roll out the dough to between 1/4″ to 1/8″ (0.63- 0.31) cm. Fold in the open end of the plastic bag so that you can roll out a neat and even rectangle.


3. Transfer to a flat baking sheet and refrigerate until firm. Do not skip this step otherwise the dough will be too soft to cut into neat shapes. The dough can be refrigerated up to 2 days.

Cutting out dough
1. 20 minutes before removing dough from the refrigerator, pre-heat oven to 350F(175C). Oven rack adjust to lower middle rack.
2. Leave your most intricate cookies cutter in the kitchen drawer and take out the ones with the simpler designs instead. Why? This cookie dough is almond meal based, which means the dough will never be as smooth and fine as a butter based dough. There will be little granules of almond meal which will interfere with a clean cut from a cookie cutter with intricate sharp corners. It will also be difficult to remove the cut dough from those intricate cookie cutters. Simple round cookie cutters, candy cane, a christmas tree are all fine. I had tried using a reindeer cookie cutter and gave up. The flower cutter I used for my cookies in the feature image, came out of the cookie cutter with just a teeny bit of hassle to remove.
3. Remove the plastic bag of rolled cookie dough from the refrigerator. If you have a silicon mat, set the bag directly on it to minimise the plastic bag from shifting.
4. Take a look at the dough. Does the dough need to be rolled over with a rolling pin to even out the thickness? Do it now if it does.
5. Run a knife down (to open up) 1 length and 1 breadth of the plastic bag so that you can open the plastic bag like a book.
6. Sit cookie cutter in some flour, shake off excess and cut cookies out and place them on baking sheets lined with either silicon mats or parchment paper.
7. Each cookie should have at least 3/4″ (1.9cm) spacing between the neighbouring cookies. They will only expand very slightly.
8. Gather up cookie scraps. They should still be sitting on the plastic bag. Close the plastic bag. With rolling pin over the plastic bag, roll dough out and recut.
8. Embellish the cookie if you wish. As these cookies were made for the Christmas season, I studded it with gold dragee.
9. Bake immediately, if not refrigerate. Cold cookies in hot oven bake out with the nicest and neatest clean edges with a better texture.

Bake
1. Bake in oven for 7 minutes, then rotate tray 180 degree and continue baking for another 4 – 5 minutes.
2. When are cookies ready to remove from oven? These cookies are dark coloured so a little hard to tell when they are baked through. There are signs though. Firstly, you will smell baked cookies. Once, you smell the cookies, do a visual check. The cookies would have clearly changed in colour, even if slightly. Then, with your finger touch a cookie. If it is clearly soft, it needs more baking time. If it is firmer with a little soft and perhaps the edges of the cookies are a tiny bit darker, it’s time to remove. 10 to 12 minutes of baking time is accurate for my oven.
3. Leave on cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.
4. Store in airtight containers when cookies are completely cooled.
5. Very good with a glass of cold milk.

Tips

Mix dry ingredients in a plastic bag
To reduce floury mess, mix the dry ingredients in a plastic bag. Twist bag shut, shake to distribute evenly and you have a well mixed and aerated bag of dry ingredients. If you use the same food safe plastic bag that you would be using to roll out the dough in to mix the dry ingredients, that’s just one plastic bag to use.

Bottle them up and give away
These make good gifts as they not only taste good, they keep very well when properly baked.

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