Visiting my Grandmother’s house during the holidays as a kid, I always searched the kitchen for a tin containing Danish butter cookies. These buttery shortbread cookies were a treat that never seemed to appear in my house. I liked the sugar-topped pretzels the best. Big sugar crystals, buttery cookie, melt-in-your-mouth texture – what’s not to love? I’ve made my own version of these cookies before and decided to revisit the shape recently, but with a chocolate twist.
These Chocolate Pretzel Cookies start with a buttery shortbread cookie dough that is rolled and twisted into the shape of a pretzel, rather than being formed into a log or punched with cookie cutters. The dough has plenty of chocolate flavor, but is not too sweet. This means that the topping of coarse sugar crystals sprinkled generously on top does not take the cookies over-the-top when it comes to sweetness, it just adds a touch of sweetness and a great texture to a tender cookie.
The dough is very easy to work with because it is so buttery. It may appear to be a bit dry when you are mixing it up, however, so be patient and give the mixer a minute or so to incorporate everything. It does not need to be refrigerated and can be rolled out right away, which means that this recipe doesn’t require a ton of prep. I do recommend going out of your way to pick up some coarse sugar crystals for the topping. You can find them at cake decorating stores or use something like Sugar in the Raw, which has larger crystals than most other brands. Feel free to experiment with colored sugars, as well!
As is the case with many shortbread-type cookies, these keep exceptionally well (for at least a week, if not more) when stored in an airtight container. They’re a great choice for shipping or if you simply want to keep a stock of cookies on hand for tea time nibbling. The recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies, but it can easily be doubled.
Chocolate Pretzel Cookies
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp espresso powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup all purpose flour
coarse sugar, for topping
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. In a small bowl, whisk together vanilla extract and espresso power, then add to butter mixture along with salt and cocoa powder. Beat until no lumps of cocoa powder remain visible and the espresso is well-incorporated.
Gradually blend in the flour. The mixture may appear dry, but it will come together as you mix. The dough will be fairly stiff.
Divide dough into 1-inch balls (or slightly larger than 1-inch) and roll into 4 or 4 1/2-inch logs. Shape the logs into a pretzel by crossing the ends over in an X and folding it towards the center of the log of dough. Transfer pretzels to the baking sheet and brush lightly with water. Sprinkle generously with coarse sugar
Bake for 9-12 minutes, until the cookies are set. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 4-5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 2 dozen.