22 October 2011

Cookies! Aztec Chocolate Sugar Cookies

I'm a chocolate addict--not the vaguely brownish milk/sugar (or more often in the US, corn) concoctions in the candy aisle, but real cacao. At sufficient concentrations, it's a little intoxicating.

Now, these aren't 50%+ cacao Dagoba or Green & Black chocolate bars, but they do deliver a surprising punch of real chocolate flavor. I started with this recipe and added a little spice, as well as adjusting the prep to save time and get a great texture/consistency. Just enough cayenne (or any chile) can really open up a rich flavor like cocoa, and gets balanced by the sweetness of the sugar, so that it doesn't add heat so much as it enhances the other flavors.

This was my first foray into baking, by the way, so it's quite an easy recipe. Yield is about two dozen cookies.

Materials

At least:
2 large bowls (wet + dry ingredients)
1 mixing implement (e.g. wooden spoon)
1 clean, flat surface
1 oven
1 baking sheet

Optional (preferred):
1 electric hand mixer (step 2, start step 3)
1 sifter or whisk
1 more baking sheet
1 sharp, non-serrated knife (e.g. French chef's knife)
OR
1 dough cutter/scraper

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, shortening or margarine*, softened
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 egg

*I like to use 1/4 cup butter and 1/2 cup margarine. I'll pop them in the oven in a coffee mug while I'm gathering ingredients. The oven's always above room temp just from the pilot lights.

Directions
  1. Mix and/or sift* the flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a separate, large bowl, mix butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg.
  3. Gradually stir in the sifted ingredients to form a soft dough.
  4. Divide dough in half and, on powdered surface**, roll into approx. 1 1/4 inch diameter logs.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). With a sharp knife or dough cutter, slice logs into 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick rounds. Toss each round in powder mixture and place on baking sheet, even spaced.
  6. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven.
  7. Your call. I immediately use tongs to gently move the cookies from the baking sheet to a glass or ceramic surface, then let them cool for a good 45-90 minutes before loading my cookie jar (or sealed storage bag).
*As a novice baker, I don't have a sifter or even a strainer. I tried a colander, but that was slow, awkward and ineffective. The best method for me was my first improvisation: a quart bell jar, a butter knife, and a second, flat-bottom container. I put the ingredients in the jar (which also served as my dry measure for the cocoa and flour), stirred them together with the knife (not too vigorously), then used sweeping motions of the knife at the lip of the jar to sift the mixture into the second container. I played whack-a-mole with any visible clumps, and it all got a final sifting going into the dough. A whisk might be a better solution than even a sifter, and I'm not sure how a strainer would compare to my method--I suspect it would be as slow as a colander, almost as awkward, but much more effective.

**One would use flour for most recipes, but then you can get white splotches on your finished cookies and even blunt the flavor a little with that outer coating. I've found a 2/2/1 ratio of cocoa to flour to sugar works best to preserve the color and even give the flavor a little bump. I start with 1 Tablespoon each sugar and cocoa and 1/2 Tablespoon sugar, then replenish before I cut up the second log. I mix them right on the surface (I use a glass cutting board) with the dull top edge of the blade on the chef's knife I'll be using to slice the logs. You'll want your hands dusted with the mixture, too.

I could see adding maybe 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla in step 2, but haven't had it around while I've been making these. If you want to go double chocolate, 1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips are always an option, but this recipe really doesn't need them.

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