Recipe: Chocolate Espresso Sugar Cookies

As I’ve mentioned before, Chester’s preferences for desserts are not as wide ranging as mine. But, he’ll never turn down a cookie. So, instead of a birthday cake, I offered to make cookies instead.

He browsed through some of my cookbooks and came across a recipe for mocha shortbread cookies. They sounded great, but as I reviewed the contents my baking cabinet, I realized that I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand. All was not lost, however, as I had everything I needed for sugar cookies.

I added cocoa powder and espresso powder to a really simple sugar cookie recipe that I discovered around the holidays last year. The end product was pretty amazing. The coffee and chocolate combo provided a rich flavor and the texture was somewhere between a cookie and a brownie—crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle. I sprinkled the tops with extra espresso powder while the cookies where still warm for a bit of an extra kick, but you could skip this is you don’t want the espresso flavor to be too strong.

Baking a practice batch of cookies really got me in the mood for holiday baking. I’ve got four types of cookies on my list to make this year: chocolate with white chocolate chips, peanut butter sandwich with chocolate ganache, roll-out butter, and lemon. Hopefully, they’ll all turn out well and I can share the results! What’s on your list to bake this year?

Chocolate Espresso Sugar Cookies

Adapted from McCormick’s Vanilla Sugar Cookie Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen (note: I used a medium size cookie scoop, which holds about a 1 ½ tablespoon of dough)

What you will need

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup of unsweetened, Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Additional sugar, for rolling
  • Additional espresso powder, for sprinkling

What to do

  1. Mix first six ingredients (flour through cocoa powder) together in a medium bowl.
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla. Mix well. Gradually add flour mixture on low speed until all ingredients are incorporated.
  3. Refrigerate dough until firm (at least two hours).
  4. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Use a cookie scoop to shape dough and roll in additional sugar before placing on cookie sheet.
  5. Bake approximately 10 minutes, until cookies are just set. Sprinkle with additional espresso and cool on baking sheet for one minute.
  6. Move to wire racks to finish cooling.
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Happy Birthday, Chester!

Chester officially hit his mid-thirties this weekend. All of a sudden, my turning 29 doesn’t seem all that bad.

We headed to Center City on Saturday afternoon to celebrate. Our first stop was Philly Chocolate for birthday treats. This lounge style café is the sister store to Philly Cupcake (where I had the best Pumpkin cupcake ever earlier this fall), and specializes in artisanal chocolates, gourmet baked goods, and chocolate drinks. It took over the space that was vacated several months ago by Naked Chocolate Café, which was one of my favorite places in the city for satisfying my sweet tooth.

While I think Philly Chocolate has a bigger selection than Naked—everything from basic truffles to chocolate covered Twizzlers to old fashioned lollipops to towering layer cakes—something was missing in the quality of the ingredients. We shared a brownie drizzled with milk chocolate, which was giant, but pretty average in terms of flavor. We also ordered hot chocolates. They were similar to what you would get at Starbucks and I was pretty disappointed that they used canned whipped cream (I know. I’m a snob. But seriously, how hard is it to get one of those cans with the nitrous oxide chargers to class things up a bit with homemade whipped cream?).

Birthday Boy!

I would probably go back if I needed a quick chocolate fix, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m still searching for something to fill the void left by Naked Chocolate. They promised that they were going to re-open soon, but so far, that hasn’t happened yet.

We made our way over to Macy’s to see the Holiday Light Show. Like most Philadelphians, I’ve been going to the light show since I was little (I’ve even got some of it memorized. “Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Marie who was given a Nutcracker for Christmas. She loved him very much because he could crack nuts between his teeth.” Impressive, right?) and it’s still one of my favorite things about the holiday season.

Then, we made our way down Walnut Street to Rittenhouse Square Park.

Our final stop was Williams-Sonoma, where Chester picked out his birthday gift—one of those fancy Boos butcher block cutting boards that he’s had his eye on for awhile. I know it kind of takes all the fun out of birthdays when you know what you are getting, but I know next to nothing about knives and all the stuff that goes with them and Chester is kind of the expert. Plus, I’ve got a lot of holiday cookies on my list that require chopping nuts and/or chocolate, and I hope that he’ll be enticed to lend me his chopping skills if he’s got cool new equipment.

Finally, it was time for dinner. While we were waiting in line at Morning Glory a couple of months back, we heard another group of people raving about a meal that they had recently had at Cochon, a French-inspired BYOB in Queen Village that specializes in pork. Chester later checked out Cochon’s menu and decided it was the perfect place for him to celebrate hitting the big 3-5 (and enjoying the fact that he can still enjoy rich foods for at least a few more years with minimal side effects).

All of Cochon’s pork products are house made, so while you can find a couple of beef, fish, and chicken dishes on the menu, the pig is the real reason to go there.  Chester was in charge of the wine, and he picked a really good French Pinot Noir (which I even remembered to ask him for the name of: Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beanue). It was really smooth and fruity, and paired well with all of the pork-centric dishes.

Chester picked two of the evening’s specials as his first and second courses. For an appetizer, he had the blood sausage, pig cheek and pig’s feet croquette. He described it as eating “really good, flavorful lard.” It was fatty and rich, but because it was served warm, it melted in your mouth rather than being chewy. For an entrée, he had the pork loin, topped with fried egg and Roquefort cheese sauce. All of the flavors worked so well together. Lentils accompanied the dish. They aren’t Chester’s favorite starch, but they were a nice, light alternative to potatoes or a heavier starch, since the dish was already pretty rich.

For my appetizer, I had the potato herb gnocchi, with pig cheek. I’ve had a streak of good luck with melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi dishes lately (for example, at Le Castagne and Talula’s Garden), and Cochon’s version continued this trend. The pig cheek gave the dish some additional saltiness and substance. Then, I had the pork chop. It was fried in bacon fat (yes, bacon does make everything better), which gave the dish an extra crunch and richness and kept the moisture sealed into the meat. It was served with rice, with bits of sausage mixed in. It was probably the best pork chop I’ve ever had in my life.

We saved room to share two desserts, if you can believe it. One was a banana walnut bread pudding, topped with brown sugar ice cream. The streak of bacon-caramel sauce on the plate made an excellent drizzle for the ice cream, but the bread pudding was actually more like a mini-bundt cake. It was pretty tasty, but the second dish–the poor man’s pudding—was outstanding. This dish features a shortbread dough, which is baked in a deep dish and topped with bacon maple caramel sauce and a scoop of bacon ice cream. The whole dish is served warm so all of the salty-sweet flavors melt together. It might be up there with Barbuzzo’s salted caramel budino for my favorite dessert of 2011.

All in all, Cochon is pretty freaking amazing. The food was outstanding, the meal was paced just right and our server could not have been nicer or more helpful as we tried to narrow down the options.

A couple of caveats: the menu is pretty small and the emphasis on pork dishes might not please every palate, so be sure you know your group before you make a reservation (or just leave the picky eaters at home). In addition, parking is a bitch in the area. The neighborhood is mostly residential, and on a weekend evening when more people were home, street parking was impossible to come by. We ended up parking at a lot on Bainbridge, a couple of blocks away, which was $20 (so much for the savings you usually can count on by going to a BYOB). Finally, the restaurant is cash-only so swing by an ATM on your way there.

All in all, I think we ushered in the second half of Chester’s 30s on a good note (no, I can’t resist the references to his age).

On a sentimental note—Checkter, I love you very much. I’m glad that I’ve had you by my side for the last (almost) seven years so that I haven’t had to eat, travel, and watch bad television all alone. I’m looking forward to many more.

Coffee Ice Cream. And, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Too.

It’s hot. Really hot.

We’ve been trapped under an enormous “heat dome” (where do they come up with these ridiculous terms? Sounds like the plot of a disaster movie.). The city feels dirtier than usual. People are cranky and annoying. My hair looks terrible, and my brain is fried (hence the lame title for this post. I spent awhile trying to think of a catchy one. Just can’t do it). 

It’s time for ice cream.

I’ve got a bunch of stuff that I’ve bookmarked to bake, but I don’t really feel like turning on the oven. Ice cream has been the way to go over the last couple of weeks, and I added a couple new flavors to my repertoire.

First up was coffee ice cream. Chester’s been requesting it for awhile, but it seems like all of the recipes that I was finding called for using instant coffee or steeping whole coffee beans in the custard mixture. Instant coffee doesn’t really seem like it belongs in homemade ice cream, and I didn’t want to buy whole beans just for this recipe.  Then, I came across this version from “Not Eating Out In New York,” which called for “the strongest [fresh] coffee that you’ve ever made in your life.”

We make a pot of coffee every morning, so I just reserved some of that. It isn’t strong, so I added more than what the recipe calls for (probably about 1 ½ cups total) until the base didn’t taste like straight up half-and-half anymore. It did turn out a tad on the icy side, though—I’m not sure if the extra coffee threw of the ratios in the recipe or maybe the mixture was still a bit warm when I put in the ice cream maker. Next time, I might try to adjust the measurements for the cream and milk accordingly, and hopefully that will help it retain some of it’s custardiness (not a word, I know). Although I’m not a big fan of coffee ice cream, I enjoyed this one as it was reminiscent of the Starbucks Java Chip flavor (minus the chips), which used to love. Chester likes his ice cream plain, but next time, I’m making a batch for me that has the dark chocolate chips, and then it will be just like it!

Fresh Coffee Ice Cream

From Not Eating Out in New York

 

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 whole eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup of the strongest coffee you’ve ever made in your life
  • Dark chocolate chunks (optional)

What to do

  1. Blend yolks, whole eggs and sugar in a bowl with a whisk.
  2. Heat milk, cream, and coffee in a saucepan until it’s near boiling. Remove from heat.
  3. Slowly, pour a cup of the hot milk/cream mixture into the egg mixture and beat rapidly with a whisk (this helps keep the eggs from completely scrambling when you pour them into the mix in the next step).
  4. Pour egg mixture back into saucepan with the milk/cream mixture. Heat at medium low, and stir constantly until the mixture becomes thick enough to coast the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  5. Pour mixture into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap (place the wrap right on the surface of the ice cream to keep the mixture from getting a skin on it). Chill in the refrigerator overnight (or at least a few hours, until completely cool).
  6. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze for 30 minutes (or whatever your ice cream maker instructions tell you to do). If using the dark chocolate chunks, add to mixture about five minutes before it’s done freezing.
  7. Transfer to a container (you’ll get about a quart out of this) and put in freezer. Let freeze a few hours before serving.

Next time around, I made my favorite—chocolate peanut butter. This is the second David Lebovitz recipe that I tried (I also made his vanilla ice cream to go with these cookies). I have decided that he’s an ice cream genius. This was the best chocolate peanut butter ice cream I’ve had ever. Period. End of story.

It’s not a custard-based recipe—no eggs—but the peanut butter more than makes up for that. Although some of the recipes that I read said not to use natural peanut butter, I did without any problems. I used my favorite brand of course—Jif—and that doesn’t have as much oil in it as some of the other natural varieties do, so the mix still held together well.

About five minutes before the ice cream was done mixing, I added the peanut butter patties to the mix. You can never have too much PB, and the ice cold chunks of it are my favorite part of this ice cream flavor. I can’t even describe how rich this is. You should make it ASAP.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

From the Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter

Peanut Butter Patties

  • 6 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

What to do: Ice Cream

  1. Whisk half-and-half, cocoa, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Heat the mixture, stirring often, to a full boil.
  2. Remove from heat, whisk in peanut butter until well blended.
  3. Chill mixture in the refrigerator overnight (or at least until fully cool) and freeze in ice cream maker. If you are using the peanut butter patties (or any mix-ins for that matter), add them to the mixture about five minutes before it’s done churning.
  4. Transfer to container (makes about a quart) and put in freezer.

What to do: Peanut Butter Patties

  1. Mix peanut butter and sugar together in a small bowl.
  2. Line a plate with plastic wrap. Drop ½ tablespoons of peanut butter on to the plastic.
  3. Freeze the patties.

It looks like we’re going to be trapped “under the dome” (Okay, now I remember that there there was definitely a Steven King book with that title not to long ago. It’s being made into a movie. Plot idea taken) through this weekend at least. What to make next? Suggestions?

Stay cool, friends. Make yourself some ice cream. Or, invite yourself to your neighbor’s pool. Or, just stay home with your head in the freezer. Whatever floats your boat. Oh, and remember, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity (Side note: I have never understood this expression. That, and “at least it’s a dry heat.” But, people seem to say them frequently when it’s hot. Some kind of weird coping mechanism, I guess).