Match Made in Heaven

Simple Shortbread Matchsticks

Okay, I know.  These cookies have very limited applicability (see my Penguin Cookies for other examples of my penchant for incredibly niche cookie designs), BUT, you can totally ignore the match theme and just enjoy these cookies as delicious shortbread morsels that happen to be decorated with chocolate — not the worst idea I’ve ever had.
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Just to help you out, though, I thought of a few scenarios in which these matchstick cookies would be appropriate as decorated:
  • dedication of a new firehouse
  • a bridal shower (“A Match Made in Heaven”)
  • celebration of a male child’s birthday (“Happy B-day to Arson”…Get it? “Our son,” “Arson,” it’s a stretch, I know)
  • dental or medical school Match Day!!!!
Just a few ideas.

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For those of you not familiar with the concept of Match Day, this “holiday,” of sorts, represents the culmination of four years of professional education (following four years of undergraduate education and 13 years of pre-college scholarship).  The Match is the method by which dental and medical students gain admission into a residency program..  During the summer leading into the 4th year of study, dental and medical students across the country apply to residency programs (anywhere from a handful of programs to a freaking boatload of them, depending on the competitiveness of the program type).  The following fall/winter consists of interviews, interviews, interviews!  Then, the candidate students submit a ranked list of their favorite programs, while the programs submit a ranked list of their favorite candidates.  Each party “certifies” their list, then ~3 weeks pass, during which we are assured that the algorithm that decides our futures is run multiple times to assure accuracy.  Finally, on Match Day, the results are released to both the candidates and the programs; the students find out where they’re going, and the programs find out who they’re getting.  Very different from the apply-to-a-bunch-of-schools-and-choose-from-multiple-admission-offers system popular among undergraduate institutions.
Needless to say, The Match is an extremely stressful process for all involved.  So many moving parts, so many unknowns, and so many factors outside of one’s control.  Of course, medical and dental school attract many Type-A, control freaks, so the effects of Match Season are most acutely felt.  So, what better occasion could there be for stress-baking and cookie-sharing??

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For dental school, there are two waves of matching:  Phase I, including orthodontics and anesthesia, and Phase II, including general practice, oral surgery, and pediatrics.  I was lucky enough to match to the orthodontics program of my dreams at the end of November, but many of my friends would learn their respective fates on the Phase II Match Day, January 30th.  As such, I figured some cookies were needed.

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Relevant side note:  I have sort of established myself as the person with the bad puns and the good cookies, so these Simple Shortbread Matchsticks basically combine both of my…er…talents.

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The shortbread recipe is a simple one.  Though you can find shortbread cookies calling for any and every type of sugar (brown, granulated, powdered, …), I have always preferred shortbread cookies that rely primarily on powdered sugar — I just think the texture is so wonderfully tender as a result of this sugar selection.  The shortbread properties are perfect for making matchsticks, since they hold their shape to a “T” during baking and yield cookies that are simple and fun to decorate.

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Preparing the recipe as follows will give you a mix of matchstick sizes — those cut from the center will be the most uniform in length and shape, while those cut from the edges will likely be shorter and may have some endearingly wonky ends.  This heterogeneity is actually ideal!  The uniform cookies serve as perfect unlit matches when given white, “un-struck” chocolate ends, while the shorter (and occasionally knobbly-looking) cookies lend themselves beautifully to the appearance of used matches, sporting dark chocolate tips and a smattering of orange sprinkle “embers.”
In short, even if you aren’t a medical or dental student (or the friend of a medical or dental student) facing the singlemost critical day of your educational career, you can still make these cookies!!!  You might need to get a bit creative in your efforts to make them seem appropriate, though.

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Simple Shortbread Matchsticks

Yield:  ~50 matchsticks
1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1/4 cup packed powdered sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsweetened almond milk
White & bittersweet chocolate chips, each melted in the microwave per bag instructions
Orange sprinkles
Cream together softened butter, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, almond extract, & vanilla extract, until pale and fluffy, ~ 3 minutes on medium-high speed.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  With mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients.  Turn mixer to medium and add milk, beating JUST until dough clumps together.  Scrape dough into a ball and out onto a large sheet of wax paper, cover with a second sheet of wax paper, and slightly flatten the ball with your palm.  Use a rolling pin to roll the ball into a large rectangle, approximately 1/4″ thick.  Place the wax-paper-sandwiched dough inside a ziptop bag, burp out the air, seal, and chill 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Remove rolled dough from the fridge, and peel off the top layer of wax paper.  Use a long, sharp knife to cut the dough into matchsticks, approximately 2″x 1/4″ with some size variation encouraged.  The long, uniform pieces will be the unlit matches, and the shorter, irregular pieces will be your burnt matches (i.e. NO WASTE!).  Place matchsticks on parchment-lined baking sheet — you can really pack ’em on since they won’t spread while baking (just keep ~1/4″ between them to allow for slight expansion.  Bake 5 minutes, rotate sheet, and bake for an additional 5-6 minutes — cookies should stay pale and be removed from the oven before any golden-brownness appears at the edges.  Let cool on sheets 10 minutes, then remove to wire racks for complete cooling.
Dip the ends of the longest, most uniform cookies in the melted white chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off before placing on wax paper to set.  Dip the ends of the shorter, irregular cookies in the melted dark chocolate, again allowing the excess to drip off before placing on wax paper and sprinkling with orange sprinkles.  Allow chocolate to set at room temp for at least 1 hour (or speed up the process by placing dipped cookies in the fridge), prior to storing.  Cookies may be kept at room temp, in airtight containers, for up to 5 days.

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