Back in my 20s, when I was single, I tended to hang out almost exclusively with other single people.
If one of my friends would start dating someone seriously we would try to maintain our friendship, but we’d usually start to drift apart as they hung out with their partner, or with other couples, more often than their single friends. I always quietly resented those friends, and their partners, for falling out of touch and drifting from me and my desire to blow three days worth of tips in one night of debauchery. Why would anyone chose to stay in with popcorn and netflix when they could hang out with me, bar hopping and getting embarrassingly sloppy until the bars closed, when we could try to find some cheap mexican food to gorge on before falling asleep with our clothes on? What could be more fun?
Now that I’m on the other side of that situation, married and in a relationship for several years, I’m starting to understand. It might have something to do with being a few years older, or the fact that I work mornings now, or that I have two dogs to get home to, but the very idea of staying out past midnight and paying for drinks at a bar rather than drinking at home has me yawning wide and worrying about my bank balance.
I mean, it’s not as if I don’t have any unattached friends, it’s just that more and more couples have made their way into my social circle. Call it maturity, or call it geriatric old age, but I’ve reached the phase of my life where nights out on the town are fewer and farther between, while socializing and entertaining at home happens more and more often. Part of the appeal of hanging out with other couples is that they tend to be just as willing (and eager) to have drinks, dinner, and visits in each others homes.
One of our closest friend-couples are in the process of organizing a DIY wedding. Last year when they were early in the planning stages, we had them over for brunch to discuss their ideas and pass down some of the supplies we had leftover from our own wedding. It was actually during that brunch that I served the Aunt Sassy Cake that was the inception of Brooklyn Homemaker, largely thanks to their insistence and enthusiasm. Little by little, we’ve been helping them with certain aspects of their wedding along the way, and I might even be planning to bake a few little things for their big day.
When they asked if I’d be interested in coming over to help out with some DIY craft projects for the wedding, I was all over it. I love doing that sort of stuff anyway, but I was especially into the idea of hanging out for the day. There would also be wine.
While the setting may have changed as I’ve gotten older, my inability to practice self control has not. I may, just may, have consumed a few too many glasses of wine and done a lot more drunken gum flapping than actual crafting.
There’s something in my DNA that dictates I must always arrive to a party, no matter how big or small, with something homemade and delicious. So, I asked if I could bring some cookies along, as if the answer might actually be anything other than yes.
My original thought was something like a simple chocolate chip cookie, but when I learned that one of their crafting friends is vegan, I started brainstorming. It’s no secret that I love a challenge.
As much as I adore butter and bacon, I really love to make the occasional vegan recipe. The one thing I don’t like though, is using vegan substitutes for things that are innately un-vegan. Egg substitutes and margarine are not things that you’re likely to ever find in my refrigerator. The way I see it, if you want eggs and butter, eat eggs and butter; and if you want to avoid them, avoid them without substituting impostors that look, taste, and smell vaguely similar.
So when I started thinking of a vegan cookie recipe, I immediately thought I wanted to try using olive oil in place of butter. I knew a simple shortbread would be perfect to highlight the choice of olive oil, and from there my mind went straight to sea salt, crunchy nuts, and dark chocolate.
My instincts paid off, and these purdy little cookies were a hit. There’s something so wonderful about a shortbread cookie made with olive oil. While the amount of sugar in these cookies is restrained and subtle, it’s presence completely transforms the olive oil to give the cookie a bright, light, and fruity quality. The shortbread has a perfectly crisp texture, with a nice hint of crunch from the toasted hazelnuts. The cherry on the sundae is the coating of bitter dark chocolate and tiny sprinkling of fleur de sel. You gotta love a sweet treat with a healthy hint of salt.
Even though there were only a few of us crafting, and this recipe makes 3 dozen little cookies, there was little more than a few crumbs left at the end of the night.
Dark Chocolate Dipped Hazelnut & Olive Oil Shortbread Cookies
1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar (for a sweeter cookie use 1 1/4 cups)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup + 1 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil, divided
8-10 oz good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel (or coarse kosher salt)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Toast chopped hazelnuts on a parchment lined baking sheet for about 5 minutes, or until they smell nice and nutty and look slightly oily. Turn oven down to 325 degrees.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and hazelnuts. Pour in 1 cup olive oil and stir until all of the dry mixture is incorporated. Brush a 9×13 baking pan with remaining olive oil, and use your fingers to press the dough down in an even layer. Prick the surface of the dough all over with a fork (try to create an even pattern). Bake until it is just beginning to turn slightly golden around the edges (keep a close eye on it), about 40 to 50 minutes.
Remove from oven and let the pan cool for 20 minutes. Do not let them cool completely before slicing! Using a very sharp knife, slice the shortbread into 6 rows of 6 rectangles. Then let the cookies cool completely before using a small spatula to remove them from the pan. Resist the urge to remove them before they’re totally cooled, or they’ll crumble to bits.
Transfer cookies to a parchment lined sheet pan, cooling rack, or countertop. Using a double boiler, or 15 second bursts in the microwave, melt dark chocolate until smooth and shiny. Dip cooled cookies, one at a time, in chocolate. I thought it looked nicer to just dip half the cookie, but you can do what you like best. Before chocolate sets sprinkle each cookie with a few grains of fleur de sel or coarse kosher salt. Transfer back to parchment and let chocolate set completely before removing and serving. (I used the refrigerator to speed this up.)