18.2.11

Chocolate Sesame Shortbread

Chocolate and sesame? What is this madness?
Really one of those "don't knock it till you try it" sort of things. I really like the combination of flavors; a more unexpected and earthy "sweet and savory" than salt and chocolate (which I love), but from the same school of thought. There's a Belgian line of chocolates called Côte d’Or that sells sesame chocolate and it is fabulous. A very popular brand of chocolate in France, my friends and I used to buy the "Sésame Noir" quite often, to be eaten with coffee, or during a movie, or just on it's own.
Côte d’Or is so delicious. The day I got to Ghent, Belgium, I asked my couchsurfing hosts what the best type of Belgian chocolate is. The answer was unanimous: "Look for the elephant". And so, we did. I have happy memories of eating chocolate with Lisa in the achingly beautiful town centre, overlooking the water, contemplating the decision I'd just made. See, I ended up in Belgium only a week after leaving the United States. I had no plans, limited funds, and no flight back home.  The possibilities were endless...a thought that was both thrilling and intimidating. But Belgium, I think, was a good place to start.
 I had been inexplicably drawn to the country and I was thrilled to be there. It really is a place of wonder. The buildings are charming, cozy and somehow autumnal. (That may have just felt this way, as I was there in September).  People are friendly,  funky, adventurous and exciting to be around. During my week in Ghent, I met so many artists, dreamers, squatters and expats.  We were given impromptu tours, shown little undiscovered spots, and treated like old friends. We spent our days wandering the intimate, cobblestone streets and smelling the frites sizzle in oil, the mussels steam in wine, and the distinct buttery sweet scent of  Liège waffles that wafted from the restaurants, cafes and homes lining it. (Literally. Lisa and I actually walked past one house about five times because of the irresistible aroma of chicken roasting in butter that emanated from their open window...) We spent evenings at our host's favorite coffee shop, ambient with multicolored burning candles and rich hot cocoa. Then we'd all head back to their funky apartment, where we'd drink Leffe  and play with their kitten, Mooi. (Flemish for "adorable")
We were also invited along to parties, barbecues, and a very interesting dinner get-together. The dinner was held in a large room in a small building, sort of a tavern. Everybody who came threw a couple of euros in a cup and then helped themselves to a big pot of vegetarian stew. Music was playing, people were laughing and beer was flowing. When everybody finished eating, everyone started drinking and carrying on, dancing...it was a great atmosphere. I loved it. Another wonderful day included a walk to the monastary. There were dozens of different apple and pear trees, and we spent hours with our host, lolling in the grass and crunching on fresh picked apples, still warm from the autumn sun.  
Anyway, in honor of a delicious chocolate bar from a magical country...



Chocolate Sesame Shortbread

The recipe for the shortbread dough is pretty much taken directly from the  Gourmet cookbook. (A cookbook...really a tome.) And then I just improvised a bit. I know chocolate and sesame sounds strange, but try it! I really think I'm onto something with this! Plus, it would make a nice gift.
I find for toasting sesame seeds that it is the easiest to control over stovetop. All you need is your tiniest frying pan and just toss your seeds on it with no oil, butter, or water. When the seeds are fragrant and golden, they're ready. 
I pressed some sesame seeds into the dough when it was about to into the oven...but I wonder how it would turn out if I rolled some seeds into the dough? If anyone does that, let me know. 
Oh, finally. Okay. The original shortbread recipe said to combine with a fork but I actually used my food processor. It turned out beautifully, better than I expected.

 Ingredients
1 stick (8 tbsp) butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup flour 
A good handful toasted sesame seeds, optional.

FOR THE TOPPING
1/4 cup chopped, good quality dark chocolate
1/2 tbsp butter
1/8 cup sesame seeds, toasted  

Preparation

Preheat your oven to 375 F. 
Blend together butter, sugar, vanilla and salt with a fork until well combined. (As I mentioned above, I actually used a food processor)  Sift flour over butter mixture and blend with fork (or in food processor) until a soft dough forms. 
Press the dough onto an ungreased baking sheet. Use a knife to cut into squares.
If you're using extra toasted sesame seeds, sprinkle on the dough and then press it down gently.
Bake the shortbread for 15 minutes. While still warm, cut and separate the squares and cool.

While the shortbread is cooling, make a small double boiler on your stovetop. (Just use a small saucepan and a small metal mixing bowl)
Melt the butter and chocolate over the double boiler, and then fold in the toasted sesame seeds. 

As soon as the shortbread is cooled, carefully spread the chocolate mixture over the top. 

Refrigerate for 15 minutes, or let the chocolate cool on it's own. These can be stored in an airtight container, probably for about a week, but somehow I doubt they'll stick around that long...

Enjoy!
 

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