The only good things about going to school on your birthday as a kid were getting to see all your friends and getting to bring in birthday treats. Another year older for my classmates meant another year of cupcakes or doughnuts or ice cream brought in to celebrate—and all of these were great. I loved every good, bad, and ugly confectionery with near equal adoration. After all, a snack was a snack. (And still is.)
But every year, when I would walk into school carrying my huge tray of the greatest mocha birthday cookies ever to grace this planet, smelling so good that all I wanted was to sneak just one between the car and the classroom—though I could never bring myself to mess up the beautifully colored cellophane wrapping Lou had carefully tied up, no matter how much I wanted to—I didn’t even mind that I was at school. I couldn’t wait to give the cookies out and watch my friends’ faces light up as they tried them. Of course, this didn’t always happen, because not every 7-year-old thinks mocha is the best thing they’ve ever tasted, but that was just a good way to weed out the duds among my friends, anyway. I soon learned a trick, though—I learned to know better than to call these unassailable cookies “mocha cookies” to my friends. What were they instead? “The best chocolate cookies you’ve ever had!” (A trick I later adapted to get Ray to try a whole lot of foods he would never have otherwise eaten. Onions. Mushrooms. Tofu. Sorry, Ray.) It’s still every bite as true now as it was then.
Ina Garten always says (and what Ina says, goes) that a little coffee in anything chocolate just makes it taste like the best version of itself—even more chocolatey, even richer, and much more complex. What could be better? It’s completely true. But in these cookies, we add a little more coffee than that—just a bit more for the perfect balance so that you can taste both flavors on their own, but as flavor-enhancing complements to each other, too.
I don’t think it’s possible to make birthdays more wonderful than my parents did for my brother and me growing up. There were entire days spent outside running and grass-lying and singing on top of fences and hours of Van Morrison-Pointer Sisters-David Byrne dance parties with every house window open, endless balloons and the ensuing yearly birthday wish balloon-release, dozens of rainbow-colored homemade pinwheels covering our lawn and bike rides with parents leading just as many elementary schoolers through streets and parks like some kind of strange circus parade, enormous paper flowers made to climb our house and the best made-up games that we kept playing for months afterwards. And of course, there was always the best food. Every year, there were surprises, but some things were too perfect to change. I remember Lou staying up more than once to make the birthday cookies way too late on a weeknight after a long weekday because she wasn’t going to let me miss a year without them. I remember helping her some years and having to furiously work away on homework others. But even when the year was tough or the week felt way too long, Lou always made sure I went to school with the biggest armful of cookies my armfuls would allow.
Like I said, the smell of these cookies alone is enough to distract an entire classroom of kids—or adults—for hours on end, but the taste… These cookies are incredible at room temperature but oh, man. Just a few minutes out of the oven, still melty and perfectly textured (aka soft and gooey), they’re too ridiculous for words.
Lou and I made these cookies last week for the 22nd year in a row, this time while listening to my friend Sarah Dooley‘s exactly amazing and perfectly accurate heart-song of a new album Stupid Things (it’s the most hilarious and warmest and happiest and loveliest thing someone I know has yet to make—take a listen). Does it get much better than an afternoon like that? Not much. There’s something pretty remarkable about anything—a recipe, a movie, a book, whatever—that doesn’t disappoint or fade even a little after that many years.
I ate four cookies before my mom finished taking our first photo.
So, there you go.
Here are some things I’ve learned about the cookies and their powers over the past years (soon to be one more):
-It’s really, really difficult to sneak one of them. Partly because whoever is keeping track of them is going to notice because…they’re that delicious, and partly because it’s very difficult not to get them all over your face. Especially when they’re hot.
-Don’t try to convince your mom that you don’t have a mouthful of the batter when you have a mouthful of the batter. Again, it’s going to be all over your face.
-These cookies are maybe the best metric for friendship (as previously mentioned) that I’ve found yet. I’m pretty sure some of my friends are still friends with me at least partially because I have access to these cookies. Now, anyone can make them , so…let’s see how many people still want to hang out.
-The taste and smell of the cookies is so distinctively amazing that one bite brings back all the others before: I’m 22 and I’m feeling terrified of finishing college but pretty excellent about the cookie in front of me, at least. I’m 16 and feeling weird that people seem to think I’m growing up—I’m not growing up—even though I clearly have cookie all over my face. I’m 9 and sprinting out of school while pulling several stashed birthday cookies from my backpack that I saved for Ray and me on our walk home (on which I will tell him they’re only made of chocolate). I’m not convinced you can’t see me aging backwards as I eat them. At least the expression and the feeling never changes: thorough and filter-less, full-out joy. Anything else is impossible.
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Lee’s Mocha Birthday Cookies
Makes about 36 ridiculously good cookies.
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine. (We miss you, Gourmet…)
– A metal bowl and a sauce pot to serve as a double boiler. (The bowl should sit just inside/atop the pot but should not reach the bottom of the pot. You’ll need a few inches of space between them so that the bowl won’t be touching the boiling water below. If the pot is small, you won’t need as much water and it will come to a boil faster.)
– 22 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or block of chocolate roughly chopped
– 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped or broken up
– 1 stick unsalted butter cut into chunks
– 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp kosher salt
– 1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
– 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
– 3 tbs strong brewed coffee, cooled
– 1 tbs room temperature heavy cream
– 4 large eggs at room temperature
– 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
With your rack in the middle, preheat your oven to 350°F.
* Set up your double boiler: put two inches or so of water in your pot and set your metal bowl over it to act as a lid. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat so the water is barely simmering. Careful, the bowl will get super hot.
* Add the chopped unsweetened chocolate, half of the bittersweet chocolate chips, and the diced butter to the bowl and stir constantly (a heat-proof silicon spatula works great here) until the mixture is smooth. You don’t want the mixture to burn so make sure to keep the heat low and to keep stirring (it goes quickly).
*Remove the bowl from the heat, being careful of all the steam that will come up behind the bowl, and set aside to cool briefly.
*In a little bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Whisk in the kosher salt.
*In the bowl of a stand mixer or another larger bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together with the whisk attachment/whisk/hand mixer until it is pale yellow and falls in smooth, thick ribbons when the whisk is lifted.
*Beat in the coffee, cream, and vanilla.
*Using the spatula from earlier, temper the egg mixture by quickly folding in about a third (just eyeball it—it doesn’t need to be exact at all) of the chocolate mixture. This helps prevent scrambling the eggs. Once incorporated, fold the rest of the chocolate mixture in.
*Next, fold in the flour mixture and, once incorporated, fold in the remaining half of your chocolate chips.
*Let the batter stand for 5 minutes. While the batter needs this time to stiffen a bit, don’t let it sit for too long. After a while, the chocolate starts to solidify and it’s difficult to scoop and scrape out.
*While the batter is sitting, line up to 3 baking sheets (you’ll probably need 3, depending on their size, but if you don’t have that many you can absolutely bake them in batches) with parchment (not wax) paper.
*Using a tablespoon, drop heaping spoonfuls of the batter (don’t flatten them out) onto the parchment lined baking sheets. Leave about 2 inches between the cookies since they’ll spread out as they bake.
*Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cookies have spread out, puffed a bit, and have a cracked, shiny top. Don’t over-bake! They should be gooey in the center when they come out. If the edges of the cookies are darker than the rest, you’ve baked them for too long.
*Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes before transferring with a spatula to a rack to finish cooling. Make sure to eat a few while they’re warm, though—and also before anyone else realizes they’re out of the oven.
©2014 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.