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butterballs3

It takes a lot to trump the perfect chocolate chip cookie, but these just might do it. Little nuggets of soft, buttery shortbread sandwiched around creamy chocolate, covered in the warm, sweet crunch of vanilla sugar… forget sugarplums, I’ve got visions of butterballs dancing in my head. ;)

A pile of these make a delicious gift, whether birthday, holiday, or hostess. And although they are sugar-coated show-stoppers, the recipe is actually quite simple — only seven ingredients and a bit of planning involved. My fourteen-year-old just made his first solo batch for a local cookie contest (he won), and he seconds my infatuation. Can cookies sparkle? I think these might…

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Vanilla Bean Butterballs with Chocolate Ganache
makes 18 sandwich cookies

For shortbread:
1 c. unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt (not coarse)
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or real vanilla extract
about 2 c. vanilla sugar for rolling (see Recipe Notes below)

For chocolate ganache filling:
4 oz. quality semi-sweet chocolate (I like Ghiradelli or Scharffen Berger)
1/3 c. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. salt (not coarse)

With the whisk of an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft and fluffy, about three minutes. Add granulated sugar, salt, and vanilla, and mix again until well-blended. Stir in the flour by hand until it forms a soft dough. Shape dough into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 3 hours, up to a week.

Working with well-chilled dough, break off teaspoon-size piece and roll into 36 balls about 3/4″ across. (Making them uniform in size is more important than their exact diameter.) Place balls on wax/parchment-paper lined plate and freeze for 30 minutes. While they are in the freezer, make the chocolate ganache for the filling.

Place chocolate, cream, and salt in small pan over medium heat, stirring. Remove from heat as soon as chocolate melts and combines with cream into a glossy mixture. Transfer ganache to a bowl and refrigerate until the consistency of thick pudding. (It needs to be stiff enough to hold your cookie sandwiches together.)

Preheat oven to 375F. Place balls of chilled dough about two inches apart on cookie sheets and bake 10-12 minutes. Cook just until set but not browned. While cookies cool on baking sheets, place vanilla sugar in a shallow bowl for rolling. To assemble, put a smear of ganache on the flat bottom of one cookie, then place another on top. Roll in vanilla sugar until well-coated. I refrigerate mine for at least a half hour afterwards to be sure they are well-stuck, but they can be stored at room temperature after that. (You can also sandwich these with raspberry jam, but the exclusion of chocolate from a recipe is frowned upon by my household…)

Recipe Notes + Tips:
Although you can certainly roll these in plain sugar, I love the added flavor and scent that comes from using vanilla sugar. To make your own, just slice a vanilla bean length-wise and add it to four cups of granulated sugar in an airtight container; wait two or three weeks before using, and whenever you think about it, shake the container to evenly distribute the vanilla. As you use it, add more plain sugar to the container to maintain your supply.

Vanilla sugar is a fantastic addition to your pantry, and there’s no end to its uses: add a teaspoon to your morning tea or coffee; sprinkle it over oatmeal or cream of wheat; give plain yogurt a flavor-boost or blend it into your favorite smoothie; add depth to baked goods from blueberry muffins to lemon bars to apple pie; make a jar of vanilla-cinnamon sugar to use on snickerdoodles, as a topping on grilled peaches, or to caramelize figs… did I mention there’s no end to its uses? :)

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This recipe is adapted from one in Gale Gand’s 2006 cookbook Chocolate and Vanilla. As you might guess from the title, half the recipes are chocolate-focused and the other half vanilla, and all of them I’ve tried are delicious. (Clarkson Potter: 2006, ISBN 978-0307238528)

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