A Monster of a Cookie
A dash of mystery and a smidge of longing -- this is how my love affair with the Chocolate Espresso Chew began. We first met at Firehook Bakery 10 years ago. It was instant lust. The cookie's crackly exterior hid an intensely fudgy inside. Was the confection's contrast of textures -- somewhere between a meringue and a brownie -- the secret to its magic? Or was it the espresso's jolt or the chocolate's intensity? Whatever the reason for its appeal, I found myself craving it, making excuses to be near the bakery at snack time which (let's be honest) was any time between 10 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon.
The secret tryst lasted for years, though I recently 'fessed up to Kate Jansen, the genius behind the chew. About a year ago, she helped open Willow restaurant in Arlington, taking her recipe for the Chocolate Espresso Chew with her. Unlike Firehook, which still serves up the enormous six-inch cookie ($1.45), she morphed it into a half-size version more suited to Willow's elegant surroundings (think dark wood accents and deep red walls).
The restaurant's main menu has complex flavors such as a braised leek, bacon and smoked goat cheese flatbread made in an open clay oven, or an herb-crusted yellowfin tuna with wild mushroom agnolotti. But Jansen, the co-owner and pastry chef, keeps her creations simple.
"For dessert, people want down-home. They're more willing to take risks with the savory, but they want familiar for dessert," Jansen says. Her cookie plate, featuring an assortment of four cookies and a dish of homemade ice cream ($6), is a top seller.
I joined Jansen in the kitchen to discover the secrets of this jewel. We went back and forth trying to transform the original recipe -- which yielded 59.4 pounds of dough -- to something manageable in a home kitchen. It was a happy struggle that took many, many batches to translate. And we got it close, but couldn't create an exact match.
Turns out the missing link is not in the recipe, but rather in the equipment. If you are lucky enough to have a convection oven, you will come much closer to the real deal. A traditional oven yields a version just as delicious: It's thicker and more brownie-like but still shares the seductive melding of coffee and chocolate in the original. The result is an intense cookie you just might fall in love with. Leigh Lambert
Chocolate Expresso Chew
This recipe will yield about 2 1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies, but you can make this simple cookie any size you want. Store in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days. For long-term freezing, wrap the cookies individually in aluminum foil and place in resealable plastic food storage bags.
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips (Jansen uses Ghirardelli)
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon finely ground dark-roast coffee beans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts, toasted,* then coarsely chopped
Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
Melt 2 cups of the chocolate chips, the unsweetened chocolate and butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Set aside.
In the large bowl of a stand mixer on high speed, beat the eggs, sugar, ground coffee and vanilla extract until thick ribbons form and the mixture has doubled in volume. By hand, stir in the melted chocolate mixture until thoroughly combined, then add the dry ingredients, chopped walnuts and the remaining chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready some large baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Make golf ball-size scoops of dough, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake, in batches, 10 to 12 minutes; the tops will crack, but the cookies should be gooey inside. Cool on the baking sheets at least 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
* To toast the nuts, spread them on a baking sheet and bake in a 325-degree oven for about 6 minutes. Watch carefully because nuts will burn quickly.
Per cookie: 190 calories, 3 g protein, 20 g carbohydrates, 13 g fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 6 g saturated fat, 62 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber. Recipe tested by Leigh Lambert; e-mail questions to http:/