- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

My women’s investment club has morphed into a book club. After a decade of poring over stock reports and dutifully keeping abreast of business news, we’re calling it quits. We made a few blockbuster purchases along the way, but when the final tally was in, we barely broke even.

If our investing skills were not stellar, our social skills were. The highlight of our meetings was always the time we spent chatting while nibbling on homemade treats.

Because most of our group didn’t want to give up our convivial get-togethers, we decided to change our focus to books. Naturally, the social hour we all enjoy will be part of the format. To initiate our new club, we’re having a potluck party in a few days. Members can bring an appetizer or a sweet. I’ve decided on the latter.

My contribution will be chocolate chunk shortbread bars: rich, buttery cookies studded with bittersweet morsels and toasted almonds. Nothing could be easier to assemble.

A traditional dough of butter, flour and sugar is blended in a food processor, then bits of chocolate and nuts are stirred in. The dough is pressed into a pan and baked until golden brown.

I discovered these cookies at our local farmers market and tried unsuccessfully to duplicate them. Then I learned from the baker that one of the secret ingredients was sea salt, which complements the chocolate and seems to sharpen all the other flavors.

Chocolate chunk shortbread bars

1 cup unbleached flour

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold and diced

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon sea salt, preferably fleur de sel (see note)

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

½ cup whole unblanched (with skin left on) almonds, toasted and chopped (see note)

Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine flour, butter, sugars and salt; pulse until blended and mixture begins to come together. Place mixture in a large mixing bowl and stir in chopped chocolate and almonds.

Press dough in an even layer in prepared pan and bake on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Cut the cooked shortbread into 8 4-by-2-inch bars or 16 2-inch squares. Then let cookies cool to room temperature in pan.

Lift out bars or squares, using a metal spatula. (Shortbreads can be baked 2 days ahead; store in airtight container at room temperature.) Makes 8 bars or 16 squares.

Note: Fleur de sel is available in some supermarkets and specialty food stores. To toast almonds, spread nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350-degree oven. Bake until slightly browned and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Watch carefully so they do not burn. Cool, then coarsely chop nuts.




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