I’m starting to suspect I’m the winter equivalent of Typhoid Mary. All too often have I moved somewhere and it’s suddenly weather they haven’t seen in over a decade, and I regret to say it’s happened again. Sorry, Pacific Northwest.
Part of me opens the door to the whole three inches out there and wants to laugh uproariously, since this feeble dusting is not enough to cause so much as a hiccup back east. The rest of me is in a snit because here it’s enough to cripple the infrastructure and set off paroxysms of “We’re all gonna die!” hysterics, and His Lordship, the monster and I need to hit the road tomorrow to spend the holidays down south with our families. Someone is damn well going to pay if we’re socked in until Monday, I assure you.
I’m also cranky because I actually managed to get organized enough this year to finish up all the cookie baking and card writing, and I can’t get to the post office to mail a single item. The one year I was planning on not taking advantage of the loosest possible definition of the holiday timetable (I’ve been known to temporarily adopt the Russian Orthodox calendar when necessary), and all my good intentions go to waste. Sorry, Secret Santa giftees, you’re going to have to wait a little longer.
Their loss is your gain, though, since I have nothing to do but blog and pack, probably in vain. It may ruin the surprise for my giftees, but I’ll share this year’s holiday cookie selection a little early in case anyone’s looking for some inspiration. Each one is an easy and great last-minute entertaining choice if you’re not already committed to a lineup. As I said, I know people get touchy about holiday food, so if you absolutely must make Grandma’s pfeffernusse, I totally understand.
In addition to a double batch of the lemon-black tea shortbread I devised earlier, I made another variation on the same recipe for my giftees: an espresso-and-chocolate Mocha Shortbread. It’s highly apropros for my coffee-swilling new home, of course, but it’s also just nice on its own dark, bittersweet, crunchy terms. Like all shortbread, it’ll keep well more than long enough to reach its destination, snow or no snow.
(Adapted from Sally Schneiders’ The Improvisational Cook)
Makes 5-6 dozen
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 teaspoons espresso powder
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 32 pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons natural (not Dutch-process) cocoa
6 tablespoons cornstarch
Raw sugar for rolling
Stir together vanilla and espresso powder in a small bowl until powder has dissolved.
In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugars and salt until fluffy. Beat in espresso mixture.
Whisk together the flour, cocoa and cornstarch, and add to the mixer bowl. Stir on medium-low speed until just clumping into a ball. Divide dough into equal halves and shape each half into a log 1 1/2 inches in diameter on its own sheet of parchment paper. Wrap the log tightly in the paper and refrigerate until firm, no less than 1 hour but preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Slice each log into 1/4 inch slices. Roll the edges in the raw sugar to coat, and set the slices on the baking sheets 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until evenly brown all over and just darker along the edges, 15-16 minutes.
Remove to a rack to cool completely.
Take care with the timing, as the cocoa and coffee will make it harder to tell when they’re browning too much, and overbaked cookies will start becoming bitter. If in doubt, remove when they are still a bit pale and let them cool on the sheet for several minutes before shifting to the rack.
The recipe can be halved if you’re not feeding a holiday-sized crowd, but they’ll also last ages in a sealed container, so you can have a compatible nibble with your coffee for weeks after the gratuitous cookies stop coming.