There are desserts that you make by opening the cupboard and mixing together six or seven ingredients. Sturdy single-layer cakes, chocolate chip cookies, brownies–these are some of the delicious results of the simple “dump and stir” method of baking.
There are other desserts, however, that require a couple of building blocks. Layer cakes filled with mousse and topped with ganache require several steps. Sandwich cookies, trifles pavés, millionaire’s shortbread–all these desserts have a bunch of components that the creator has to make separately and then assemble with care.
Often, my baking falls under the former of these categories. When I’m whipping up a dessert for a dinner party or as a gift, I’m most likely to make something that requires merely three steps: measuring, mixing, and baking. But there are also times when, per specific request or my own mood, I make something more involved. I think any baker recognizes the craving, not just for chocolate cake, but for the attentive assembly of multiple layers, and the mixing of flavored syrups, the whipping up of icing. Memorably, I once made a chocolate birthday cake for my sister’s birthday that included a few layers of genoise, a coffee-chocolate syrup, crumbled chocolate chip cookies (made from homemade cookies, of course), whipped ganache for the filling, and a shiny chocolate glaze for the coating. It was summer vacation from college, and I didn’t have much to do.
But the upside of all the hours in the kitchen making something like this (besides the existing merit of having spent several hours in the kitchen) is being left with the various components. You can build them up in different ways–something you can’t do with a minimalist apple cake, say. An apple cake is what it is.
I developed these coffee sable cookies as part of a bite-sized tiramisu dish for a party Phoebe and I were catering. But when my dough yielded far more little circles than I’d expected, I was left with an excellent gift: coffee sable cookies at my whim. Some I kept around plain, for garnishing mouses and puddings and things. Some I sandwiched together with spoonfuls of chocolate ganache and wrapped up for my doorman, in exchange for his extra digital TV box (yes, I now have nine whole channels). It was fun to have the sables as a deconstructed building block, which I could then build up again in all different ways. It was fun in the way only a baker would understand.
From my kitchen, where chocolate and coffee match in all different ways, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Makes about 50 1 1/2-inch cookies
These sables use ground coffee–not espresso powder, which is normally used in baking. You want to use pretty finely ground beans.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter softened but not at all melty
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coffee
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Mix together the flour and salt and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar with a mixer for a few minutes until very creamy. Add the egg yolk, vanilla, and coffe grounds and mix to combine. Then add the flour and use a spatula to incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Once it’s come together, press into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or two, until firm. If you refrigerate longer (or freeze), let the dough stand at room temperature for about half an hour–until pliable–before trying to roll it out.
On a floured surface, roll the dough out until it’s about 1/8-inch thick. It’s easiest to do this half at a time. Cut into shapes–I use a 1 1/2 inch round cutter. Carefully lift the cookies onto a sheet, using a spatula if they feel delicate.
Bake for 6-10 minutes until just firm and slightly brown. Cool on the pan, then remove to a rack or plate.