December 10, 2009

For my coffee-addicted darling: NaCoBakMo, Day 12.

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:00 pm by the Green-Eyed Siren

Back to being a day behind on posts, but I swear I’m still baking. As I post this the sun has risen on Day 14; after today’s batch I’m halfway there! See the About this NaCoBakMo thing page for info on my quest.

Mr. Unfocused and I met during fall quarter of freshman year in college; we have officially been a couple since the end of freshman year, June, 1988. This means we have passed the point where we have spent more than half our lives together. My earliest memory of him is an image of a compact young guy in a ratty jeans jacket leaping down the wide stone stairs of his house (we were in the same dorm, but different houses), unable to pause for the proper introduction our close mutual friend was attempting to make. That was OK; his energy was so appealing that I couldn’t help but figure, well, he’s got stuff to do!

As our circles of friends began to overlap, we became friends ourselves. I was irresistibly drawn into his Unfocused mystique. He was easygoing and clever—perhaps a bit too much so for his own good when it came to his classes. I, on the other hand, was a straitlaced kid. We seemed quite different from one another back then; so strange that we are so alike today.

One of the ways in which we were different was his tendency to pummel his body mercilessly through bad habits. (I had, and have, plenty, but his were executed with far more flair.) He picked up smoking in college, because for all his vast intelligence he was perfectly capable of being an idiot. He stayed up too late and drank too much, generally at the same time, far too often. And the way he drank coffee was theater. He was well known for bringing a full cup of black coffee back to the house table in the dining hall (it was like Hogwarts, we ate with our houses in a gorgeous wooden dining hall structure with an cavernous vaulted ceiling, adorned with all manner of decorative painting) and upending the glass sugar dispenser over the cup while carrying on lengthy conversations with housemates who would pretend nothing was out of the ordinary until they could no longer stand it. Pity the oblivious uninitiated observing this coffee/sugar display for the first time: the poor sap would get progressively more twitchy, finally blurting out, “Isn’t that enough sugar yet??”

I am pleased (if still somewhat astonished) to report that Mr. Unfocused has since become the poster child for how to take your body back from the indignities of neglect, as is plain from his kicking of many 20 year-old behinds in this October’s Men’s Health Urbanathlon. Thanks to years of diligent effort as a runner and at the gym he has lost a ton of weight and earned the distinction of being in far, far better shape at 40 than he was at either 20 or 30. He quit smoking ages ago, and now the late nights tend to be work- or writing-induced.

However, he still drinks a lot of coffee; now it’s black, “Like my lawyer’s heart.” He builds his day around his coffee rituals, and when he travels for work the crucial point determining whether he returns cheerful or grumpy is the proximity of Starbucks to his hotel—just imagine how difficult life was for him in his pre-iPhone days, no Starbucks locator app at his command! Our kids take it for granted that coffee addiction is one of the defining elements of his personality and cheerfully enable it (“Daddy, do you need to go to Starbucks?”). I am an inconsistent coffee drinker myself, but he loves it when I’m on caffeine. Quoth Mr. Unfocused recently, when I was going through a particularly punishing time and required a Starbucks run, “It’s so nice when you’re drinking coffee—it’s like we share a hobby!” Awwww.

Thus, when I decided it might be nice to craft a cookie he would particularly enjoy, coffee came instantly to mind. Unfortunately I think the first round of this recipe wasn’t as coffee-licious as I would have liked, although it is still quite full of awesome. I’m confident that when he returns from his latest trip (they have coffee there, Lord be praised) he will thoroughly enjoy them.

This is really your basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, with a slight adjustment in the white/brown sugar balance, an omission of the vanilla, the addition of chilled espresso, and using chocolate chips for a thin top layer rather than embedded in the cookie itself. I reduced the amount of salt as well, in hopes that it wouldn’t overpower the coffee flavor while still pepping things up, as salt is wont to do.

What’s off on the balance here is also probably part of what makes them tasty. If I had used all white sugar in place of the brown sugar, the coffee flavor almost certainly would have stood out more. However, I took a chance because I suspected (and still do) that the addition of the brown sugar would allow them to age and travel better; I’m figuring on tossing a slice of bread into each cookie box to keep them moist. (That trick works with any brown sugar cookie, and it can keep your brown sugar pantry stash soft as well. An apple slice also does the job, but it’s messier under shipping conditions.) If these did not have to wait a few weeks for their debut I might have given up the brown sugar, but, then again, that would have meant sacrificing the chewy bite. Hmm…decisions, decisions.

I’d like to experiment further, pushing the envelope on how much liquid espresso could go into this recipe before it becomes a soggy mess. I was definitely hoping for a more pronounced coffee flavor than I got, but I didn’t particularly want to use espresso powder or ground coffee beans to get there; perhaps a combination of the two would assist this cookie in achieving greater coffee goodness. The last thing contributing to an obscuration of the flavor is the chocolate layer, but I wouldn’t want to give that up. I mean, what would be the point of living?

One more point: pressed for time, I did a double batch and baked them both at the same time oven racks separated by just one level, hoping it would help with evenness. It didn’t, so don’t do that. But what I noticed was that the coffee flavor was definitely more pronounced in the cookies that were slightly underdone and chewy. As with a good chocolate chip cookie, it is far better to pull it out of the oven a smidge early rather than the tiniest bit late.

Hint O’ Java Squares
(for my Unfocused but Highly Caffeinated Guy)

1 c unsalted butter, softened
1 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
2 oz espresso, chilled
2 1/2 c flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350º. Prepare a single 11″ x 17″ baking sheet by spraying with cooking spray, then lining with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in espresso until well incorporated. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually beat flour mixture into the butter mixture.

Turn the dough out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Cut a second sheet of parchment a few inches larger all around than the baking sheet. Place on top of the dough. Spread the dough evenly across the cookie sheet by working it all the way to the edges, pressing on the dough through the parchment in order to do so. Once dough is evenly distributed, refrigerate with the top parchment sheet in place for an hour or more; this will prevent the dough from coming up with the parchment when the top sheet is removed. Remove from refrigerator and peel top parchment sheet from dough. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until nicely browned.

Remove from oven and allow baked cookies to rest for about five minutes. The cookies will collapse and firm up a bit during this time. Sprinkle with chocolate chips while still warm. Allow chips to melt, about 3-5 minutes, and spread very thinly across entire sheet. Allow cookies to cool thoroughly before slicing. Makes between 60-80 cookies, depending on size.

UP NEXT: A Scandinavian extravaganza.



  1. maria delton kapp said,

    Freeze-dried, instant espresso flakes!

    Medaglia D’oro, is the brand. Stereotypical packaging, red/white/green, glass container.

    Works great and no sogginess to deal with. I believe Produce World, on Lawrence at Cumberland has it.

  2. Lass said,

    Oh, those look and sound good!

    I can related to Mr. U.’s level of caffeination, if only in the past tense (due to my ulcer). When I was first meeting with my doctor about my stomach issues last year, he asked me how much coffee I typically drank in a day. “Two pots”, I answered. He chuckled, then said, “No, really, how much?” “Two pots”, I replied. “That may be the first thing we need to stop”, said he. It was one of the saddest days of my life. :(

  3. Thanks, Maria! OK, listen up, people, I HEREBY AMEND THIS RECIPE to include 1/2 c of freeze-dried instant espresso flakes, incorporated with the other dry ingredients. Maria KNOWS.

  4. That is the saddest story I’ve ever heard. And now you’re supposed to go cold turkey, right? NOT ACCEPTABLE!

  5. Unfocused Me said,

    Have I told you in the last 5 minutes that I love you? Because I do. Very, very much.

  6. bb said,

    Tres romantique.

    Hey, did I give you guys that silver Indian chest?

  7. Yes, you did!

  8. I just hope you like the cookies. Don’t tell me if you can’t taste the coffee. Feel free to lie outrageously.

  9. chel said,

    Thanks for the story that went with today’s post. As someone who knew you both in the giddy days of Hogwarts dining… though I was a Thompson house girl myself.. it brought back wonderful memories … mainly of song, coffee- sugar games at the C shop, and of abusing my sleep deprived young body with a few vices along the way with you and your husband.
    Three cheers for Dr Fizzenzap and Miss FillyFaddle’s school for girls!

  10. Huzzah!

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