Sweet Relief...

I hate to indulge in stereotypes, but there are times in a girl's life when dessert isn't an indulgence, it's a downright necessity. Personally, I think the world might be a happier place if chocolate were available in the same way as emergency fire hoses: tucked into a convenient nook in the hallway with a little sign reading, "In case of emergency, break glass." For me, this weekend was definitely a chocolate emergency. I am the type of person who is intensely affected by the problems of those around me. The same empathy that makes me a good listener, and a reliable source of solace advice in a dark time also leaves me emotionally drained when my loved ones are in trouble. Their stories are not mine to tell here, but suffice it to say that the past week was not a good one for several of the people in my inner circle.

For me to cope, it was time to turn to chocolate.
In the interest of killing two birds with one stone, I opted to bake a batch of chocolate thumbprint cookies from a recipe I'd spotted on Martha Stewart's website last year when I was assembling my Cookie Bonanza lineup. I didn't have the time to make them last year, what with the seven varieties of cookies I was already baking, but in my post-Bonanza analysis, I couldn't help but wish I'd been able to include a thumbprint type cookie. The chocolate recipe stuck in my mind, and I decided to give it a test-run for this year's giveaway. Ultimately, these cookies turned out to be too labor intensive for the Bonanza, and the the soft chocolate ganache centers that make them so special turned out to make them poor candidates for packaging.

However, the chocolate thumbprints turned out to be profoundly tasty and were enthusiastically recieved by all who sampled them, so I've decided to make them for this year's
cookie exchange instead, when I'm baking fewer other things and will have a much shorter distance to transport them. The ingredients for these cookies are a bit on the pricey/difficult to source end of the spectrum (I'm looking at you, vanilla beans!), but if you're looking for a special treat that will not fail to impress, this recipe comes highly recommended by me.

Chocolate Thumbprints

adapted from Martha Stewart

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder

scant teaspoon salt

1 c. unsalted butter, softened

1 1/3 c. sugar, plus more for rolling

2 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Chocolate Vanilla Bean Ganache, recipe follows

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a small bowl. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, and add yolks, cream, and vanilla. Scrape sides of bowl. Beat in flour mixture until just combined.
2. Roll balls using 2 teaspoons dough for each, and roll each in sugar. Place 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. With the handle of a wooden spoon, press gently in the center of each to create an indentation. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are just set, about 10 minutes. (If indentations lose definition, press centers again.) Let cool slightly on baking sheets. Transfer cookies to wire racks, and let cool.

3. Spoon warm ganache into center of each cookie. Let stand until firm, about 15 minutes. Cookies will keep, covered, for up to 3 days.

Chocolate Vanilla Bean Ganache
adapted from Martha Stewart

1/3 c. honey
1/3 c. heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

1. Combine honey, cream, and vanilla seeds and pod in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring until honey dissolves. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 20 minutes.
2. Place chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Return cream mixture to a simmer, then strain through a fine sieve into the bowl with the chocolate, and let stand for 1 minute. Discard solids. Stir until smooth. Add butter, and continue to stir until butter is incorporated. Let cool slightly, and then use immediately.

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