Dave’s Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies {The Red Sea}

This is the recipe that saved my always yearning sweet tooth while visiting family in Egypt just a few weeks ago.  Dave’s Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies.  Nothing short of a lifesaver.

Really, I’m not kidding!

While there was plenty of sugar to be found, it just wasn’t what I craved.  Nothing felt like home when I needed a familiar sweet in my mouth.

Oh, there were plenty of knockoff candies and cookies.  Like Borios, Egypt’s answer to Oreos.  But they just weren’t Oreos.

Cheryl, my sister living in Cairo, had been telling me about these wonderful shortbread cookies that Dave makes, long before we ever even thought about buying plane tickets for a visit.  And now, after having spent a couple weeks with her family, I have total appreciation for the satisfaction she finds in her husband’s cookies.  They are little bites of home in a hugely populated city (20 million people!) on the other side of the world.

I had great fun on our shopping trip to Carrefour, a large and very modern grocery store with headquarters in France, quite similar to our local Cub and Rainbow Foods.  We went shopping that day for snacks and supplies for our Christmas excursion across the Sinai peninsula, to a little piece of paradise on the Red Sea.

The store was full of many familiar looking items with unfamiliar wrapping.  And lots of unfamiliar items with even more unfamiliar wrapping.  I couldn’t scan the merchandise fast enough.

From the tiny bananas to the best cucumbers I’ve ever eaten, and from the huge vats of fresh spices to the boxes of unrefrigerated milk (supposedly popular in most parts of the world, but kind of shocking for my midwest dairy-land mind), it was a foreigner food lover’s delight.

And while we were there, I dropped a few bars of the chocolate Dave uses in his Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies into our cart.  I just had to bake these up in our own Minnesota kitchen when we returned home.

Dave’s cookies were a bit smaller than mine, and cut into arrows and stars.  But I thought hearts would be fun, in the spirit of the upcoming Valentine’s Day.  I’m sure we’ll be making these in various shapes throughout the year, depending on the season.

Dave has also experimented with chocolate drizzled and dipped cookies, but said that Cheryl prefers the simplicity of the plain, so that’s what he usually makes.  I made some drizzled, some not.  And both at home and at work, the ones with additional chocolate cleared the plate first.  I like the cookies both ways and see myself doing some of each whenever I make them in the future.

Dave’s Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
(print recipe)

1-1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3-1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
6 to 7 oz. bar of semi-sweet chocolate  (Dave uses a chocolate bar that is 52% cacao.)

optional chocolate drizzle:
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 tsp. solid vegetable shortening

Chop your chocolate bar into small pieces.  Aim for your biggest pieces being about the size of half a chocolate chip.  If they are too big, it causes problems with the cookie cutters.  Set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.  Add the sugar and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes more.  Beat in the vanilla, and then gently stir in the flour and salt, just until incorporated.  Gently fold in the chopped chocolate.  Divide the dough in half and flatten each half slightly into a disk shape.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, longer if your butter is on the warmer side.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the dough disks to a 1/4″ thickness.  Cut into your desired shapes using lightly floured cookie cutters.  Place on a prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until just browned and firmed up.  Remove pan from oven and let cookies rest on pan for a minute or two before removing to a wire rack to completely cool.

Repeat with next dough disk.  Just be sure to keep your dough chilled until you are ready to roll it.  If the dough gets too warm, it will spread when baked.

To drizzle cookies with chocolate, place the 4 ounces of chocolate and the vegetable shortening in a small bowl and microwave in short increments until mostly melted.  Then stir until it is completely melted.  Dip into the melted chocolate with a spoon and drizzle the chocolate over individual cookies.  Let chocolate cool and harden.  To speed the process, the cookies can be placed in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes or so.

These cookies keep well frozen.  I actually prefer to eat mine straight from the freezer.

Yield:  about 3 dozen 2″ to 3″ cookies

Source:  Dave Pickert’s recipe box

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And…I’ve been hearing from many of you, how you want to see more pictures from our trip, after I first mentioned it here.  So I chose some photos from a few days that we spent at the Red Sea over Christmas.

To start our journey, our families were picked up in Cairo by a van from our resort. We drove UNDER the Suez Canal, right onto another continent.  Did you know the Sinai is actually in Asia?

I thought I would be bored driving across the desert, but our trek was quite the contrary.  The constantly changing landscape of varying browns and golds against a brilliant blue sky were captivating.

And between the rough road, the extreme high speed of our vehicle with the windows open, the bathroom breaks capable of producing nightmares, and the numerous unnerving police check points…well, how could one honestly be bored?

As we traveled east across the Sinai, the landscape rose up.  Alot!  It was simply breathtaking.

When we reached Taba, at the border of Egypt and Israel at the Red Sea, the rock formations changed from horizontal stratas to cragged fingers reaching for the sky.  Or the heavens, actually.  All I could think about as we drove through this harsh and rugged beauty, was how Moses wandered that very land, leading the Israelites out of Egypt.  He did that for FORTY YEARS.  I cannot imagine…

We traveled south from Taba, weaving in and out from the Red Sea, catching teasing glimpses of that sparkling blue water.  And we arrived at Dahab Paradise just seven short hours (ha!!) after departure, parched (because we didn’t want to drink much, so we didn’t have to make more grody bathroom stops) and road worn.  The welcome drinks of fresh guava and strawberry juices were swallowed by our eyes before they ever touched our lips.

The kids immediately took off their shoes and let their toes run on some green.

Our resort sat nestled into golden mountains, just a bit north of the town of Dahab.  Offering only 35 rooms, our stay was quiet and intimate.  A very striking contrast from our first week in Cairo’s hustle and bustle.

The pool area, overlooking the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba.  Can you see that hazy mountain silhouette across the sea?  That’s Saudi Arabia.

I was mesmerized by Saudi Arabia.  I must have snapped at least 100 pictures of those moody mountains across the sea.  They seemed to play a game with me, fading in and out of view, never fully reviewing themselves.

Standing on the evening shoreline was a beautiful thing.  This is looking north of Dahab Paradise.  At that jutting point is where the Blue Hole is located, a famous dive site with the nickname “Diver’s Cemetary”.  Dave wanted to take us snorkeling there, as he had scuba dived there previously and found it extraordinary.  But the words “cemetary” and “snorkeling” in the same sentence, for someone who has never snorkeled before, was a no-go.  So he came up with Plan B, to get Hatti and I in on our first snorkeling experience in the warm waters of the Red Sea.  We took a taxi to a beach abundant with washed up coral, on the south end of Dahab, and snorkeled there instead.  Traveling light and fancy free for those few hours, I left my camera at Paradise, so our memories are all we’ve got.  But they’re beautiful ones we’ll never forget.

In the evening, when the winds died down, and the moon rose up big and round and glowing, Paradise was even more enchanting.  Over a nightly bottle of shared red wine, we listened to the sea’s gentle waves spill onto the shore.

The view from our balcony never left us sitting in our room.  I wish I could have bottled up the fragrance of the gorgeous flowering vine climbing outside our door.

It was refreshing to see green and flowering plants, and the sea was a spectacular backdrop.

I love grasses in any landscape, but these especially caught my eye, bending and swaying along the shore.

It was common to see camels along the water’s edge.  And, yes, we were the Minnesotans always pointing, oohing, and aahing at them.

We found blinking Santa hats on our door handles on Christmas morning.  Dave and Cheryl fully took the gesture to heart.

Our 2010 family Christmas photo, where we had ventured into the town of Dahab.  The highlight for the kids was all eight of us hanging out of an open Jeep (aka “taxi”) on the ride back to Paradise.  We sang the whole way back. “Jingle Bells” sung in Arabic by my niece and nephew is a sound I’ll never forget. 

Dahab Paradise features a Bedouin tent, where they serve warm tea.  The Egyptians love their tea.  When I saw everyone drinking it in Cairo, I imagined it to be quite strong.  But, no, it was the sweetest warm tea I have ever had.  After every evening meal, and sometimes during the day as well, we visited the Bedouins and shared some tea.

The Bedouins play a one-string instrument called the rababa.  And they were surprised and quite pleased when Dave and Cheryl’s kids started singing Christmas songs in Arabic.  They joined right in with us on our Christmas celebration!

Yes, we enjoyed ourselves at Paradise.  There were plenty of big smiles…

…and feet up on loungers.

It was a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming sort of place.

And I feel largely inadequate in wholly describing everything we experienced.

But infinitely blessed to have been there.

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I’m linking up with:

  • Cheryl at TidyMom for “I’m Lovin’ It Fridays!” Check it out right here!
  • Kim at Quit Eating Out for “Saturday Swap” at Quit Eating Out.  Right here!