Espresso Chocolate Cookies

The Christmas season in my paternal grandparents' house, when I was growing up, was always marked by tins of the exact same assortment of homemade cookies, painstakingly baked in legions by Grandma Baumer.  There were wreath spritz cookies, apricot or mincemeat oatmeal bars, buttery vienna crescents, and then, the espresso chocolate balls.

The latter were not easy to love as a kid.  They didn't have the crunchy green colored sugar of the wreaths, or the gooey pie-like interior of the bars, nor the melt-in-your-mouth heavenly almondness of the crescents.  They were small, brown, unadorned, a little bitter, and crumbled in your mouth, crying for a glass of milk (which I wasn't a big fan of either).  And yet, year after year, I tried to like them.  I knew there was something challenging and grownup about them, and I'd give it another go each time they were the only remaining variety in the tin.

I recently came across the recipe again, in my grandmother's handwriting, among some of her belongings.  The inkling about them being a grown-up cookie was correct.  They are a deep bitter espresso, with a wave of dark cocoa, finishing just at the end with a flicker of salt.  They are also the quickest and easiest holiday cookie I have made yet.

These are subtle and elegant, and would be a charming finish to a winter dinner, alongside coffee, port or dessert wine.  Or try them as a late sunday afternoon snack with a glass of medium-bodied red wine.  I did.  With a toast to Marie.

Marie Baumer's Espresso Chocolate Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspooons vanilla
1 tablespoon instant espresso or instant coffee granules
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 2/3 cup flour, unsifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
confectioner's sugar, optional

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add coffee granules, cocoa, flour and salt, and blend well.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls (if the dough is warm or sticky, chill for a few minutes). Place on lightly greased baking sheet, or parchment or silpat, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake at 325 degress for about 15 minutes, until done. Cool completely. Roll in confectioner's sugar if desired. Store in an airtight container or freeze.

Dark Chocolate Dipped Shortbread recipe

I was asked to bring dessert to a dinner with some of my favorite girls (you know who you are...), the day after Easter.  With this year's holiday resulting in a serious lack of bunny candy (believe me, for the better) I thought about trying to come up with a grown-up easter sweet.  These dark chocolate dipped shortbread cookies were the perfect fit, and paired very well with the individual creme caramels I made in addition.  They are both classic and elegant, and not too sweet, so could be great with afternoon tea or alone with dessert wine.

By Catie
makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies, depending on shape

1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean (optional, but worth it), split and scraped
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups AP flour
3/4 tsp salt
8 oz dark chocolate, not chocolate chips (see note below)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

With either a hand mixer, or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together softened butter, sugar, and the split and scraped vanilla bean (seeds and bean pod), until combined and fluffy, and the oils from the vanilla bean have been beaten into the butter. Remove the vanilla bean.  Add vanilla extract and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl sift together flower and salt. Add to butter mixture, a bit at a time, until all mixed in.

Shape into two disks on a floured surface, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Gently roll out one of the disks of dough on a well floured surface to a 1/3" thick. Cut into desired shape, either with a knife or cookie cutters. Place on cookie sheet, sprinkle with a little extra sugar, and bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes, until the bottom and edges are just turning golden. Cool on baking rack.

You can freeze any unused portion of dough.

For the chocolate:
Finely chop the dark chocolate with a large chef's knife. To temper the chocolate, so it stays glossy when it dries and doesn't develop that dull gray finish, place half of the chopped chocolate in a microwave-save bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, remove and stir, and repeat at 30 second intervals until just melted. Then add a portion of the unmelted chocolate shavings to the bowl, stir in to melt by the heat of the chocolate (no more microwave). Repeat until all the unmelted chocolate has been incorporated.

When cookies are cool, gently spoon chocolate on one of the ends of the cookies, scraping off any excess. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment to cool.

Note: For the chocolate, try not to use chocolate chips. Most chips contain an emulsifier so that they don't melt completely and ooze everywhere when baked in cookies. Instead use your favorite good dark chocolate eating bar, or these Guittard chocolate wafers, which are of incredible quality, and my favorite (and also amazing antioxidant treat just as is.)

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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