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Seriously Simple: Help for the party host

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
Chronicle Books
Shortbread with Chocolate and Candied Walnuts. Tribune Media Services

I am excited to share some wonderful news with you. My newest book, “Seriously Simple Parties,” has just been published. And it's a wonderful milestone for me: my 20th cookbook published. This one is for all of my readers that requested that I give them all of my party-giving experience in a book that they could use for small and large occasions.

There are lots of amazing dishes that take little time to put together but yield seriously big-time results: Chicken Drumettes with Romesco Sauce, Arugula Salad with Roasted Grapes, and Oven-Baked Paella, to name a few. One of the keys to a good party is creating a balanced and colorful menu, a topic on which I make many suggestions. The most important thing is to become a confident, comfortable cook and relaxed host. In this new volume, I recommend the steps needed to gain that state of mind.

At a signing party for “Seriously Simple Parties,” I served lots of dishes from the book. No one could get enough of these cookies. They're a crowd-pleaser, to be sure, and, best of all, they're really simple to prepare. It's easy to find candied walnuts or pecans, so no need to make them from scratch. Since the cookies are quite rich, small squares are the perfect serving size. Present them on a pretty platter, preferably with a bowl of berries. I recommend keeping some of these cookies in your freezer; you'll have an instant dessert for any impromptu gathering.

Shortbread with Chocolate and Candied Walnuts

Makes 16 squares


12 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes

12 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

14 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour


1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

12 cup candied walnuts, chopped

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with a piece of foil long enough to press up the sides of the pan, with a 1-inch overhang so you can pull the shortbread out in one piece.

To make the shortbread: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Remove from the heat and add the brown sugar and vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Add the salt and gradually add the flour, incorporating it gradually and stirring until thoroughly mixed. Spread the mixture into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the shortbread is golden brown.

To add the topping: Remove the shortbread from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot shortbread. Return the shortbread to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes, or just until the chocolate has softened. Remove from the oven and spread the chocolate evenly with a metal spatula. Sprinkle the candied walnuts evenly over the chocolate.

Place the pan on a wire rack and cool the shortbread slightly for 20 minutes. Then transfer the pan to the refrigerator to cool for about 40 minutes, or until the chocolate has hardened. Lift the shortbread out of the pans and cut into 16 pieces with a serrated knife. Arrange on a platter and serve.

Party Prep: The cookies may be prepared ahead up to 1 month ahead and stored in an airtight container in the freezer. Defrost at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving. They may also be kept up to 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

The clever cook could:

• Double the recipe for a larger party. It is best to use two 8-inch pans rather than one larger one.

• Present the shortbread in cellophane bags tied with ribbon as party favors.

• Use different candied nuts or use toasted nuts.

Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 20 cookbooks, including most recently “Seriously Simple Parties” (Chronicle Books, 2012), and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host.

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