Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chocolate Espresso Black Pepper Cookies

Everyone seems to have a strong opinion of coffee. I have friends who don’t touch it at all or those who use it like a drug to help them get through a night of cramming for exams, then there are people who depend on caffeine to jolt them awake lest they crash with a mind-numbing headache. I fall in neither of those categories, although when I do drink it, I want it strong and bold, with nothing else but milk swirled in.

I am particularly fond of café au lait. At Premiere Moisson, you can order it in a cup or bowl, and of course being a Francophile, I order a bowl, because what is better than sipping a bowl of coffee alongside your chocolatine? I could dive into that café and lather myself in that milky foam. I haven't discovered many cafes here in Toronto that offers the same thing, but if you do, please share!

I’m not an expert in coffee, but I’ve been a loyal consumer of Lazzava coffee for a while, particularly the 100% Arabica brand, vacuum packed in gold foil, shining brightly on the supermarket aisle like a piece of the yellow brick road. Its dizzying aroma and sweet, almost vanilla-like flavour was my go-to comfort drink. But then I met Kicking Horse and I can’t seem to go back.

A few weeks ago, I went to Longo’s to pick up a few items, among them was coffee. I was hovering around the coffee station, eyeing French presses and milk foamers (I excel at hovering and eyeing kitchen equipment) and the man at the coffee counter, Michel, came bustling over, bellowed Hello! and offered to give me a Coffee 101 class, to which I responded why of course.

I learned: the best coffee are made from 100% Arabica beans and roasted beans should always be bought in small quantities to retain freshness, they should never be stored in the fridge and depending on what machine is used to brew coffee, the degree to which the beans are ground varies. For example, I use a percolator at home and as opposed to the powdery coffee in the Lazzava brand, the beans should be ground to a slightly coarser texture, which means I've been doing it all wrong the past few years.

I left with pound of Kicking Horse coffee, its scent intoxicating my car on the ride home. I was thrilled with my new purchase and charmed by Michel’s passion, his eyes shone with joy as he talked about coffee and his enthusiasm was contagious. He bid me farewell with a shot of espresso, leaving my mouth winey and tannic.  

I chose Kicking Horse for a two reasons: I wanted something new and local. I don’t know what took me so long to buy real coffee beans, but now they're the sole reason I get up in the mornings and they make one hell of a baking ingredient. I usually add a little coffee to chocolate desserts like I did here, enhancing the chocolatleyness. Besides, if you’re a coffee fiend, why wouldn't you?

These cookies are originally called Chocolate Black Pepper Cookies, yet that didn’t do justice to the brillant addition of coffee so I added espresso to its name. These are icebox cookies, meaning the dough is shaped into a log, chilled and then sliced and baked to your heart's desire. What you get are cakey, crumbly nibbles, an adult version of chocolate wafer cookies if you will. A hefty dose of pepper dials down the sweetness, there’s plenty of espresso powder to give that unique, grainy texture and the ring of sugar crystals sparking around each cookie adds an extra crunch.

I know you won't need me to tell you that these make a fine accompaniment to coffee. So go on, roll up your sleeves and march to the kitchen, they await.

Chocolate Espresso Black Pepper Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen

I left out the ground cinnamon, as I wanted the espresso and pepper to really shine in the cookie, but you can definitely include it if you’re a cinnamon fan. I had some trouble getting the coarse sugar to stick to the cookie log in step 4, since my log was more like an oblong brick. So make sure your log is smooth, the sugar will adhere easier.

Finally, don't substitute the espresso powder for instant coffee, as Martha says, "the flavor and texture will not be as good", I could not agree more.

1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon finely ground pepper, plus more for sprinkling
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Coarse sanding sugar, for rolling

1. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt, pepper, espresso powder in a large bowl.

2. Cream together butter and sugar in a bowl using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, mix until just combined.

3. Turn out dough onto a piece of parchment and roll into a 2-inch diameter log. Roll log in the parchment. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 350F, position rack in middle of the oven. Remove log from parchment and soften slightly at room temperature, about 5 minutes. Roll log in sanding sugar, gently pressing down to adhere sugar to dough. Transfer log to a cutting board, and slice into ¼-inch thick rounds. Place rounds on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spaced 1-inch apart. Sprinkle each round with freshly ground pepper.

5. Bake cookies until there is a slight resistance when you lightly touch the centers, about 10 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies can be storied in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Recipe here!

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