Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hazelnut Espresso Cookies

I have the most ridiculous confession to make regarding these cookies (and their lack of accompanying photograph).  It should come as no surprise that we love and adore them.  'Espresso' is in the title, after all, which makes it a bit of a given that there is perfection involved.  And really, the first time I read the recipe, I knew they would end up as family favorites.  Truly, when I bit into the first one, I actually began planning their photo shoot.  

Cookies this incredible demand photographic evidence, I would think.

Maybe I would pose them in a clean-lined stack, leaning against a mug of steaming coffee (which is how I imagined I would enjoy them if I had a bit more self-control).  Then, as I bit into the second ninth cookie, I began planning a slightly different angle, something more befitting their classy, adult manner.  I could use the good china, I thought, and take advantage of the next day's morning sunlight, staging the photo on the porch table, as if I were enjoying a coffee and cookie break outside in the quiet while the kids were otherwise occupied.

Well, that was a perfectly sensible idea, of course, so I put away the camera for the moment and, uh, grabbed another cookie on my way to my desk to get some work done.  I would just plan to take the photo the following morning...

Except then I packed up a few cookies for my mom, and then another little container to take to my girlfriend who loves having cookies with her afternoon coffee.  And then there were only two left on the cookie sheet, since I had chosen to freeze half the dough for a future cookie emergency.

They happen, you know.  Cookie emergencies.  When hormones are zinging around like crazed pinballs, when dinner is disappointing, when work is piled up on the desk, dustbunnies are congregating madly in the corners of every room and homeschooling begins to sound like the most ill-conceived idea I've ever had.

It is moments like that when one is grateful for the cookie dough that was lovingly wrapped in plastic wrap and tucked away in a covered container in the back of the freezer to be brought out for such a time as this.  And it beats trying to talk The Husband into getting dressed and making a late-night run for Coffee Haagen Dazs.

Back to those two cookies on the baking sheet though...  As it would happen, one of them disappeared while I was wrestling a child to sleep, which forced my hand, in a posture of pure self-preservation, so that I had no choice but to snag the last one for myself.

And just like that, all the cookies were gone.  I had a recipe in hand that I just couldn't wait to share, but, alas, I had no photo.  No proof they had ever existed at all.   

So I waited.  I waited for a cookie emergency.  A cookie emergency that would come all too soon, at the end of One of Those Days just a couple weeks later, when I would shoot the stink eye towards my family and stalk to the laundry room, where I would carefully remove the Emergency Dough, divide it neatly in half so as to provide for the next emergency as well, and bake a single pan of cookies after the kids were already asleep so that we would not have to share.

Oh my stars.  They were just as delicious as I remembered.  Buttery and salty, only slightly sweet, with just the barest hint of coffee flavor.  Crispy on the outside, yet as delicate and tender as an old-fashioned Toll House cookie on the inside.  And since I had used whole-wheat pastry flour, they were healthy to boot.  

Well, as healthy as something can be with that much butter involved, but healthier than the average cookie nonetheless.  I would definately need to set aside a few cookies with which to take a photograph once I had natural light to work with...

The Carnivore and I polished off all twelve cookies within an hour.  Still no picture.

Because obviously I needed a picture, I selflessly decided to bake the rest of the cookies just a few days later.  Since the Emergency Dessert Clause had not been invoked on that go-round, we exhibited the kind of self-control that would make a monk proud, each of us devouring only a couple of cookies, and politely setting the rest aside for their next-morning appointment with the camera.

Morning came, a little too early for my taste, bringing with it a dismal gray overcast tint to the supposed-sunlight.  The two-year-old woke up on the wrong side of the bed and endlessly terrorized her older brother, The Annoying Squirrel Pest got himself tangled up in my hair and bit me on the ear, and, as I emptied the last dish from the rack,  I realized the dishwasher had failed to open the soap container and that nothing had gotten very clean.

Belligerently, I turned my back to the chaos and slowly ate the rest of the cookies, savoring each bite and then delicately licking my fingers to enjoy the very last crumb.

And then the heavens shone their light upon me and angels sang in the background.  For real.

Like magic, everything went fine with the rest of the day.  The kids hugged and made up, I threw The Annoying Squirrel Pest into a room and shut the door, and then I poured another cup of coffee and read a few chapters of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to the now perfect children.

Valium would have been less effective.  Not only are these cookies the most elegant and lovely bites of delicousness I have ever encountered in a cookie, but they are mood-altering as well.  And healthy.  Don't forget the whole-wheat flour.  That makes them good for you.

If they were less divine, I might have possessed the wherewithall to have a photo to post with the recipe, but isn't my complete lack of restraint in the face of these cookies an even more compelling endorsement of their ultimate supremacy in the field of desserts?


HAZELNUT ESPRESSO COOKIES (adapted from Leite's Culinaria, makes 36)

Note: this dough freezes well.  Just wrap tightly in plastic wrap and enclose in a plastic container with a tight lid, and freeze.  Thaw to room temperature before baking.

  • 2 cups whole-wheat pastry dough (do not use regular whole-wheat flour as it is too dense)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tbs instant espresso powder (like Cafe Bustelo; do not use instant coffee)
  • 10 oz shelled hazelnuts, skins mostly removed, coarsely chopped
  1. To remove the hazelnut skins: preheat the oven to 250 degrees, and place the shelled hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until the skins crack.  Quickly transfer the nuts to a clean kitchen towel and roll them up.  Let steam in the towel for 5 minutes, and then rub the nuts with the towel until most of the skins have come off.  Not all of the skins will come off, and this is perfectly fine.  No panicking necessary.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  4. In an electric mixer at medium-high speed, cream the butter and both sugars together until fluffy.  
  5. One at a time, beat the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture.
  6. Beat in the espresso powder.
  7. Reduce the speed to low, and slowly add the flour mixture, beating just until incorporated.
  8. Stir in the hazelnuts.
  9. Drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto baking sheets, about 1 and 1/2 inches apart.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes, until cookies are golden but not browned around the edges.
  11. Cool for two minutes and then loosen the cookies from the pan.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Seven Wonders of the Week

Spring arrived with a grand entrance this year, leaping out loudly from behind Winter's lingering back, and this year, she brought all her friends with her: singing birds, hilarious swirling clouds of pollen, fragrant and thick blooms of wisteria, warm breezes, and the usual sense of wonder.

All too often, moments of pure beauty pass by fleetingly, lost amidst busy schedules and children's bedtimes and desks piled with work.

This week, we reveled in the springtime bliss, breathing deeply, moving slowly, and living fully.


On Sunday afternoon, we opened all the doors and windows and did our best to blur the lines between inside and outside.


On Monday, we frolicked in the big creek.


In the glorious and welcome high heat of Tuesday afternoon, I weeded the salad garden while The Boy Wonder took care of the watering, Little Miss Hazelnut stripped off her clothes and ran amidst the wisteria, and Elvis the Bloodhound lolled about in the shade of the pear tree.


Wednesday brought a lunch date with my former housemate and his wife who were in town for a mere 24 hours. There was laughter, catching up, and a brief, but wondrous, sense of connection between the past and the present. Later in the day, while The Boy Wonder learned about pollination with his fellow homeschool Garden Earth Naturalists at The Botanical Gardens, Little Miss Hazelnut followed the yellow brick road to a surprise cup of lemonade at the cafe.


Thursday began with an excited search under the pillow to see what The Tooth Fairy brought on her magical first visit to our home.


On Friday afternoon, in the sun-dappled shade of the large tree in front of my mother's house, while the older kids played in the meadow, and the adults pulled chairs around to sit together in the warm sunlight, generations jumped boisterously on the trampoline amidst laughter and squabbling. It was childhood in action.


Saturday began peacefully, the air cool, the quiet morning softly decorated with the sound of birds, cartoons, and the click-clacking of my knitting needles; the little pond filling with the falling lavender petals of the wisteria as its blooming season draws all-too-quickly to a close.


I can't wait to see what next week brings...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Mouthful of Candy

There is a time for everything. A time to eat healthy, and a time to gorge on Easter candy. A time to avoid high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors, and a time to throw out all the rules. A time to spend a day having a free-for-all with the candy proudly brought home from the hunt, and, later, a time to take Communion. A time to think about the Easter bunny, and a time to focus on The Cross.

Hoping your family enjoys the holiday weekend, in all of its silly excesses and its quiet, splendid glory. Happy Easter, friends.