Whew. You know that saying about the month of March? That it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb? Well, I think November is the exact inverse. It comes in on its tiptoes, with a faint, flirty rumor of fall and a clove-scented hint of the holidays to come, and it goes out all a-bluster, with sleet and snow and rosy cheeks (in Seattle, anyway) and a full-on assault of all things Santa Claus. Part of me wants to hunker down and hide away for a month or so – hibernate, bear-style, with a teapot and a down pillow – but the other part of me couldn’t be happier. After all, this time of year is tailor-made for cookie baking: loads and loads, pan after pan, cookies for eating, cookies for giving, cookies to my heart’s content. Oh, happy, happy holidays.
I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas shopping. It always feels sort of forced and messy, and more about the wallet than anything else. I love the idea of Christmas presents – I am human, you know – but when it comes to procuring them, my feelings are mixed. The mall doesn’t exactly help matters. The problem is this: I don’t so much want to buy. I want to make – or, more precisely, bake. What makes me happy at the holidays – or any day – is the homemade and the handmade, things with history and character. So this year, I have made a decision: to give only gifts made by hand,* with no exceptions. [Okay, except a few books, maybe, because they’re books, people, and that doesn’t count.] I’ve done a little baking and canning for past Christmases, but this is my first year to go whole-hog handmade. It may sound a little daunting, but to me, it sounds just like heaven. It sounds like lots and lots of cookies. I hope you’re ready.
Now, there will be some apple butter, I’m sure, and some fruit-nut balls with floppy chocolate caps, and maybe even some coffee-walnut toffee. [I am turning into my mother, I know, and I don’t mind one bit.] But the next few weeks mainly spell good, solid, quality time for me and my oven. I’m always itching to bake a pan of cookies, so you can imagine how happy this makes me. Unlimited excuses for creaming butter! Sugar by the bag! And, thanks to the first cookie on my list – fittingly named “chocolate rads” – pound after radical pound of cocoa-rich bittersweet chocolate.
I was reminded of this recipe last weekend at City Bakery, while downing one of three “melted” chocolate chip cookies I tucked away over the course of three days in New York.** [It would have been a real shame, you know, to let a day go by without eating one.] Dark and crackly-topped, Maury Rubin’s chocolate-on-chocolate confection was not only worthy of the trip from Seattle, but it also called to mind a cookie that made regular appearances in my mother’s annual Christmas tin. Her version came from an old Bon Appétit recipe, a straightforward formula that called for both bittersweet chocolate and chocolate chips, as well as instant espresso for oomph and cake flour for a dainty, melting texture. It was, I remembered, rip-roaring delicious.
So on the plane ride home, I started scheming, and within 18 hours of our landing at SeaTac, a batch of chocolate rads sat cooling on my countertop. Tender to the core, like a dense sort of cake, these little beauties are a chocophile’s dream. Like small, tidy brownies encased in crisp, crinkly shells, they quite literally ripple with chocolate. And best of all, they keep for a few weeks in the freezer, which makes them pretty darn ideal for us Christmas bakers. It’s not even December yet, but ooh boy, is this heart ever content.
* This doesn’t mean that I won’t be buying a few things here and there – just that those few things will be handmade. The Internet is brimming with artists and crafters whose work is very, very worthy of Christmas giving. Here are a few of my favorites, a little sampling of people who make me feel especially happy about going handmade this year:
Jen Causey and her inspiring camera
Lisa Solomon and her totes and tees and more
Maria Vettese and her lovely letterpress (nudge! nudge! the card society, anyone?)
Blair Stocker and her wise.. crafting
Camilla Engman and her beautiful work
** A celebratory weekend after my successful first go at roasting a turkey (phew!). New Jersey, you were kind to me.
Adapted from Bon Appétit a while back
These cookies are all about the chocolate, so don’t skimp. You want these to be, uh, rad, you know. It may be a tad expensive, but buy the good stuff.
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
4 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
1 tsp instant espresso, such as Medaglia D’Oro
½ cup cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 cups good-quality semisweet chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli
In the top of a double boiler or metal bowl set over gently simmering water, melt the bittersweet chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the sugar and eggs, and beat with an electric mixer until thick and pale yellow, about 3-5 minutes. Add the melted chocolate, melted butter, vanilla extract, and espresso powder, and beat to mix thoroughly.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into small bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula to just combine. [The batter will be fairly gluey and thick.] Stir in chocolate chips. Place the bowl in the refrigerator, and chill until the batter is firm but not too hard, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. Drop the batter with a spring-loaded ice cream scoop – mine has a capacity of 2 tablespoons per scoop – onto the prepared sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space around each blob of dough. With moist fingertips, press down on each blob to flatten it slightly. Bake the cookies until tops look dry and crackled, about 11-13 minutes. Do not overbake. Transfer the cookies on the parchment paper to a wire rack, and allow to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Remove finished cookies from the parchment paper, and store them in airtight container.
Note: These cookies freeze beautifully, and they can be frozen for up to a month. Allow them to come to room temperature before serving or eating.
Yield: About 35-40 cookies