Night Baking: Never a Good Idea

Waker-Upper Animal Crackers

I usually don’t begin thinking abut Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving, but after stumbling upon the yuletidiest cookie I’ve ever tasted, I’m ready to start the season before we even hit Halloween. Billy the Kid has a knack for randomly remembering items we used once, over a year back, and last night while we had some “us time,” waiting up late for Mr. P after the ladies retired, BK declared he had a great idea. Indeed, it was the perfect time to dig out the five small animal-cracker cookie-cutters/stampers from Williams-Sonoma we bought two summers ago, our singular attempt thwarted by an inappropriate dough that melted over details and puffed out when baked, yielding cartoonishly cloud-shaped cookies. But Mrs. Peña runs a tight ship, and they were exactly where they should have been, as I had already learned when BK was one that throwing away anything he deemed “his” was a very bad idea.

In my end-of-day haze, I quickly scanned several holiday baking magazines until I saw a picture of a cinnamon cookie that looked like it could stand up to our stampers with a few slight modifications. I only noticed the call for espresso grounds once I had started assembling the mis-en-place, but it was already late, so how bad could one small coffee-infused cookie be for a toddler at 9:00 PM? Gleeful cries of “my feet  can’t stop running!” finally tapered off around 10:30 when BK fell asleep while talking, and a steady stream of the little “crackers” kept me fully alert until Mr. P’s arrival around midnight.

If you’ve ever been the lucky recipient or partaker of a Pepperidge Farms Entertaining Cookie Collection, you’ll recall the thin, unassuming, simple Bordeaux wafers, and the uncomfortably urgent desire to put all of them in your mouth at the same time. The following recipe produces the same flavor and crisp consistency, but with more heft than flake, and if you bake for just a minute less than indicated, a hint of chew. The combination of small and thin with the descriptor “cracker” will encourage gluttony, so keep a mental count as you visit the plate throughout the day in case you need to shame yourself into restraint.

1 stick butter, softened
1/4 C shortening
1 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar, packed
1 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp instant espresso grounds
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 C flour

Assemble the dough in the standard manner. Shape it into two discs and refrigerate them for an hour. Roll out the dough to 1/4″ thickness before cutting out shapes, and bake single sheets at 375 degrees for 6 minutes (check every minute after 4 during the first batch to determine exact baking time). Cool the cookies on the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a sealable plastic container or bag before hiding them under your bathing suit in the corner of your top drawer.

Coffee? Tea? Really?

Mrs. Coffee

I almost never drink hot coffee unless I have a cold. I start each day with a medium regular iced from D&D, replenishing the sugar reservoir twice over the course of the morning before the noon switchover to Diet Coke. For some reason, about 50% of the population thinks coffee after dinner is great idea, but a good host tries to accommodate all tastes, regardless of merit. So, if you don’t make coffee frequently enough to have perfected your home brew, I suggest you try this on a cold afternoon before permanently adding it to your dessert repertoire.

1 Mr. Coffee (4-cup or 8-cup), with appropriate filters
Café Pilon or Café Goya coffee (espresso ground)
1 can evaporated milk
sugar

Make the coffee, using 2 1/2 flat tbsp for 4 cups, or 5 flat tbsp for 8 (do not round!). Sweeten each cup with 2 1/2 tsp sugar and lighten with evaporated milk. If anyone requests black (and you know their general medical history), ignore them and say you forgot. Jack Kerouac’s dead, gentlemen, let’s move on.

My will will be done.

Minion Makers

Do you like to get what you want? I do. The indecent amount of caffeine in these espresso-loaded, butter-based, frosted brownies will have potential henchmen hooked and doing your bidding in no time.

Brownies:
1 1/2 sticks butter
5 oz unsweetened chocolate squares, chopped in half
2 C sugar
2 tbsp espresso grounds
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 C flour
3 tbsp butter

Frosting:
2 1/2 tbsp butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate square, chopped in half
1 C confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp tepid water

Set the oven to 375. Put the sugar into a large, heat-proof mixing bowl. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Pour the melted chocolate into the bowl and whisk it together with the sugar. Add the vanilla, then one egg at a time, incorporating each completely before adding the next. Whisk vigorously for 2 minutes. Add the flour, salt and espresso grounds, and stir with a wooden spoon until the batter is once again smooth and consistent.

Set an 8 x x12 baking pan over a burner and melt the 3 tbsp butter over low heat. Swirl the butter around the pan and slightly up the edges. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake at 375 for 25  to 30 minutes, then let the pan sit for ten minutes before flipping it over onto a cutting board so that the brownie sheet comes out upside down.

Now, for the frosting, I’ll refer you to an excerpt from Black Midnight Cake with Chocolate Buttercream: Melt the butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Once melted, turn off the stove and stir in the vanilla. Add the sugar half a cup at a time, sprinkling in 1 tbsp of water as needed to facilitate stirring. The finished product should be completely smooth; if you wind up with a greasy, mottled appearance, you just need to add a little more water and beat it vigorously.

Once you’ve finished the frosting, the brownie sheet will be cool enough to proceed. Spread a thick coating of frosting onto the flat surface, pulling all the way to the edges. Don’t worry about frosting the sides, they’ll be trimmed. Let the beast sit where it is for half an hour so that the frosting sets a shell.

With a sharp knife, trim 1/4″ off each side of the slab. Cut the brownies into 2″ squares, set the squares on paper towel to absorb moisture and oil, and seal up what still stands by the end of the day.

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