Back in the third grade, the kids with birthdays during the upcoming month got to decorate our classroom's door. The September birthdays did a beach theme. The October birthdays obviously did a Halloween theme. The November birthdays broke with tradition and abandoned turkeys in favor of a baseball theme. And through it all, I patiently waited for December.
And then we found out that the December birthdays would not get to decorate the door because we were decorating the door for Christmas. It shouldn't have surprised me. Having a December birthday was the pits because my birthday was always overshadowed by Christmas. My mom would bring in cupcakes for the class (long before they forced to bring in carrot and celery sticks as birthday treats) and for a day, I'd be the awesome girl whose mom brought cupcakes. But the next day, some other mom would bring in Christmas cookies and I'd be dethroned. I'd wear my fancy birthday sweater and for a day, I'd be the one with the fabulous sweater. Until the next day when someone wore a Rudolph sweater with a real blinking nose.
Over the years, I became somewhat blase about my December birthday. The Christmas lights were more fun. The Christmas music more prevalent. And the Christmas time off was so much more life-sustaining. When I married the hubster, he tried to do all the things expected of newlywed spouses on birthdays. He planned surprise birthday parties only to realize I hate surprises. He bought jewelry only to discover I'd much rather get a new kitchen gadget (like this one, if you happen to be reading, hubster). And he sent flowers to my work only to discover I prefer my presents to be of the edible sort.
And bless his heart, he's gone with that. Every year, he makes me a birthday treat. Chocolate cream cheese cupcakes. Almond biscotti. Lemon pound cake. And coming from a man who "cooks" ramen, and makes peanut butter and Dorito sandwiches, and eats cereal out of measuring cups when I'm not around, his birthday treats make it almost bearable that come the day after my birthday, the world will again be covered in red and green tinsel.
This year, the hubster didn't ask where the cookie sheets were. He didn't ask whether unsalted and salted butter were basically the same thing. And he didn't spend hours calibrating the oven (because you know, the oven temperature must be perfect for his once a year baking session). And I, in turn, accepted that maybe birthday treats were a thing of the past now that we wake up at 3 a.m. to watch Sesame Street videos with little man and the majority of our time is spent digging through piles of laundry for that one tiny missing sock.
Until I came home to this. Shortbread cookies dipped in dark chocolate. Not just any shortbread cookies but Ina Garten's shortbread cookies. The ones with almost an entire pound of butter. The ones dipped so perfectly in "good quality" dark chocolate. So happy birthday to me. Oh and hubster? I have already begun the countdown to next year's birthday treat.
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 to 7 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a 3 by 1-inch finger-shaped cutter. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.
When the cookies are cool, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put 3 ounces of the chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. (Don't trust your microwave timer; time it with your watch.) Stir with a wooden spoon. Continue to heat and stir in 30-second increments until the chocolate is just melted. Add the remaining chocolate and allow it to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until it's completely smooth. Stir vigorously until the chocolate is smooth and slightly cooled; stirring makes it glossier.
Drizzle 1/2 of each cookie with just enough chocolate to coat it.
Recipe from Ina Garten.