December 22, 2009

Not enough hours in the day: NaCoBakMo, Days 21 & 22.

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:51 am by the Green-Eyed Siren

Day 21 of NaCoBakMo was the day before our church’s first Advent Choral Vespers service, and our nine-voice women’s choir (of which I am a member) was performing John Rutter’s Dancing Day. I was responsible for the program layout, and it was a nasty one to put together—the page turns just stubbornly refused to behave themselves, and pulling together all the various elements in the correct order was time-consuming, and all in all it was just a huge time suck. Later that night at our dress rehearsal all hell broke loose as we became aware that our harpist had not had adequate time to prepare for the Rutter (which, in all fairness, is apparently one of the most challenging works in the harp repertoire). Serious scrambling took place post-rehearsal, and we were very, very fortunate (like on a Christmas Miracle level, actually) to find an amazing replacement by 11 pm that night. We would get our only time with her during the brief warm-up/run-through the next day, but at least we’d have a shot of pulling it off.

The next day was a whirlwind. It was the last day of school before winter break, so I needed to prepare the fruit tray I’d volunteered for my daughter’s classroom party. A quick stop at Target was on the agenda, both for last-minute Christmas thingys and materials for distributing my cookie largesse. There were several more hours of work to do on the program book, and then the performance that night; I also had found out I’d be doing a bunch of chanting so I needed to practice lest I look like an idiot. The program had me the most concerned: since it was complex I really didn’t trust anyone else to print it, and I decided we would have to go straight to church from school pick-up in order to leave enough printing time (120 copies of a 20-page book is not exactly speedy, even on a fancy copier that does all the work for you). I tossed my few remaining pieces of presentable looking (and clean! woot!) clothing into a bag along with a little makeup (there was no time for glamour, but I could at least look like I had made a tiny bit of effort). I picked the kids up from school and we raced off to church, where we camped out by the copier until rehearsal and, finally, the service. The new harpist was amazing, the chants went fine, the Rutter was really lovely, and we had a decent crowd in spite of a little bit of weather: all told, a very successful event. Then a post-service coffee hour that ended in a surprisingly festive neighborhood blackout, followed by collapsing at home.

All of that added up to some serious cookie difficulty for two days. Somehow, however, I managed to get a batch of cookies made during the school day on both of those days, but I admit to some cheating: I essentially baked the same recipe twice, with the excuse that I wanted to see what difference could be made by using a shortening/butter combo vs. all-butter (I also reduced the flour on the all-butter version). I was going for a very chewy cookie, and based on my very positive experience with Day 19’s (yet-to-be-posted) cookie I thought I’d be pleased with that combo, but the alchemy of cookies is such that all the other differences in the recipe yielded a totally different cookie experience. Not bad at all—in fact, really, really good—but different than I expected. The all-butter version ended up being closer to what I was seeking, so that’s what I recommend, and that’s the recipe I will post.

I based the recipe on the spice combo in a Maida Heatter recipe for Mexican chocolate cookies, but that recipe was for a very crisp and bittersweet cookie. I was looking for something my kids would eat, hence the search for a nicely chewy cookie. (In addition to the Maida Heatter recipe and the Day 19 recipe I also consulted the Day 9 Chewy Chocolate Cherry recipe to get the proportions right.) Both the shortening/butter and all-butter versions of these cookies were great and gobbled up by my family, but they do prefer the butter version. They have a very brownie-like consistency.

As I was making this recipe I thought about one of my two best friends from college, who first introduced me to the idea of Mexican hot chocolate. I had never heard of the chocolate/cinnamon combo before arriving on campus as a fresh young coed, but she was a well-traveled, sophisticated, class-act young woman who was also very kind and generous of spirit, and she happily shared with me the chocolate/cinnamon secret. Thanks, M, these are in your honor.

Day 21: The shortening/butter combo cookies. They held their shape in the oven remarkably well, almost too much so.

Day 22: The all-butter version. A little more spread, but definitely not too much. Also, only half of the cookies were baked right away; the other half waited until later that night. The ones that were delayed came out much, much darker in color. The cocoa powder seems to have had more opportunity to fully dissolve into the dough. It might be worth allowing it to rest a bit before baking in order to get the richest possible experience.

Chewy Mexican Chocolate Cookies

1 c butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c white sugar
2 eggs
2 c flour
3/4 c cocoa powder
2 t cinnamon
a generous pinch of finely ground black pepper
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

Preheat oven to 350º. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl beat butter and sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. In a medium mixing bowl gently combine flour, cinnamon, pepper, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add dry mixture to butter mixture.

Using a medium-sized ice cream scoop and leaving roughly an inch and a half between cookies, scoop batter onto baking sheets. Bake for 11-13 minutes. Allow to cool on sheets for two minutes, then transfer to wire rack to complete cooling. Yield: at ice-cream scoop size, about 24 cookies. Smaller scoops will yield more cookies.

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