When it comes to dessert recipe creators, none holds a candle to Alice Medrich. Considered by many the "first lady of chocolate," she is the founder of the famed Berkeley patisserie Cocolat and the author of several wonderful cookbooks, most recently Pure Dessert. I've raved about her twice before -- her whole wheat sables and nibbly buckwheat cookies simply demanded it -- and I'm prepared to gush once again, because I made her coffee walnut cookies for a party I catered on Saturday night.
Pure Dessert is all about the flavors that inform our desserts. The book is organized by flavor profile, with sections devoted to nuts and seeds, fruit, honey, grains, etc. The book's organization demonstrates how much thought Medrich has put into each and every recipe. No teaspoon of vanilla or half a cup of corn flour is called for by accident. The coffee walnut cookies are no exception: coffee grinds and ground walnuts make the cookies rich, yet assertively bitter, and altogether addictive. And I love the crunch of the coffee bean that graces the top of each cookie.
Sometimes, more is less. When it comes to dessert, I'm always inclined to pack as much caramel and chocolate and (while we're being honest) butter as possible into whatever I'm making. Baking Alice Medrich reminds me of the little -- very little -- voice inside my head that squeaks, "restraint!" And when the little voice wins, the result is always so refined and simple, so very...um, pure.
More on the catering gig in a future post, but for those keeping track, my record is officially 2-0. Yeahhhh.
Coffee Walnut Cookies adapted from Alice Medrich
2 cups flour 1 cup walnuts 3/4 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons fresh, finely ground medium-roast (not espresso-roast) coffee beans, plus about 70 whole beans for garnish 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) butter 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brandy 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Combine the flour, walnuts, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the walnuts are finely ground. Add the ground coffee and pulse to mix. Add the butter (cut in several pieces if firm) and pulse until the mixture looks damp and crumbly. Drizzle in the brandy and vanilla extract and pulse until the dough begins to clump up around the blade. Remove the dough, press it into a ball and knead it by hand a few times to complete the mixing.
2. Form the dough into a 12-inch log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or preferably, overnight, or up to 3 days. The dough can also be frozen for up to 3 months.
3. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into one-fourth-inch-thick slices. (If the dough crumbles when you cut into it, let it soften for several minutes.) Place the cookies at least 1 inch apart on silicone-lined baking sheets. Press a coffee bean into the center of each cookie.
4. Bake the cookies until light golden brown at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking. Let the cookies firm up on the pans for about 1 minute, then transfer them to a rack with an offset spatula. Cool completely. These cookies are delicious fresh but are even better the next day. They can be stored in an airtight container for at least a month.