Sunday, February 8, 2009

The way the cookie crumbles

If you have spent any time in the food blogging world, or even any time on my site, then you'll know the respect that everyone has for this lady. I've been following her blog for about a year and a half now, and my tastebuds have never regretted it. Of course, some of my cookbooks have gotten a little jealous of my devotion, but I pull them out often enough to keep them from threatening mutiny.

Molly has also had a column in Bon Appétit magazine for the past year that follows the same formula as her blog: beautiful story intertwined with heavenly recipe. Not a bad combo.

Because I've been traveling around so much and will continue to do so, my magazine subscriptions have fallen by the wayside, but I do keep up with my favorites online, or, if I need a little pick-me-up, sneaking one into the shopping cart at the grocery store (Jimmy's lovely that way by pretending not to notice). The February issue came home with me in the shopping bag, and I eagerly skimmed through to read Molly's column first thing. I was immediately intrigued by her cookie recipe and bookmarked it with one of those Post-It flags that I'm addicted to.

I was browsing around on the Bon Appétit website a few weeks later when I happened to notice that one of the most commented articles was the same one I'd marked. Confident that I'd read all kinds of praise, I clicked over and found mountains of comments complaining about wasted ingredients, burnt butter and terrible cookies.

Shocked, I continued reading through the comments until I caught sight of a note from an editor at BA--she had decided to post Molly's original recipe to see what people's reaction would be. The original recipe had been reworked by the test kitchen, as I'm sure is normal protocol for magazines, but in this case the new version hadn't gone over so well with readers.

I decided then and there to try the original recipe and soon.

Now, I'm not normally a crispy cookie kind of person. My personal preference runs much more towards ooey gooey insides. I am, in fact, deathly afraid of over baking anything, and therefore always start checking my cookies and cakes about 10 minutes before the recipe indicates.

These cookies made me a believer (and also taught me that I apparently can't cut in a straight line to save my life).

I started smelling brewing coffee, toasting almonds and melty chocolate about halfway through the baking time. After I pulled them out, cut and cooled them as instructed, I had to sneak one, though they were nowhere near crunchy. I thought they tasted all right, but the flavors didn't match up to the aromas that had been wafting towards me throughout the baking. I was a bit disappointed, can't lie.

However, the following morning, after leaving the cookies out overnight to fully crisp up, I was stunned. A rich smell of almonds combined with the smooth chocolate and crispy texture, while the undertone of coffee brought the whole thing together.

I brought them as a little housewarming gift to some friends and got nothing but widening eyes and "Oh my God, these cookies are amazing" over and over again. And when one of those friends went to culinary school and the other has been eating your food for decades, I consider that pretty high praise indeed.

Coffee Crunch Bars
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg, who adapted it from Leah Reich, who in turn adapted it from her grandmother, Mamie Chaiffetz
February 2009 issue of Bon Appétit

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup tightly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup demerera sugar, pulverized in a coffee grinder a bit to get a smaller crystal (Molly calls for tightly packed dark muscovado sugar)
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 Tbsp. high quality regular espresso, ground very finely (Molly calls for instant espresso)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together using an electric mixer or elbow grease and a wooden spoon, until the butter has lightened and the mixture looks a bit fluffy. (Molly's recipe says this should occur after 2 minutes with the electric mixer, while mine took about 5 minutes by hand).

Add the almond extract and instant espresso (or coffee) and stir for 1 minute to combine thoroughly.

Using a wooden spoon (if you weren't already), add the flour mixture in in three stages, taking care to mix just until the flour is absorbed. Add in the sliced almonds and chocolate chips and stir to evenly distribute them throughout the dough.

Turn the dough out onto an ungreased rimmed cookie sheet (about 12 inch X 17 inch), and use your fingers to evenly press the dough into a 12 inch by 12 inch square (Note: I totally missed this step and spread the dough out to fill the entire cookie sheet, and they turned out beautifully).

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges have browned and the dough in the middle looks set.

Allow to cool in the pan for one minute, then immediately slice the cookies into 24 equal pieces and place them on a cooling rack (preferably overnight). The bars will crisp up as they cool.

Makes 24 bar cookies.

Note: These cookies taste even better the day after you make them, which is why I recommend making them right before bed and allowing them to crisp up overnight.

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