Writing isn’t coming easily to me these days between the general anxieties of starting a new year, the political climate, my friend’s meeting and losing their baby, and Kev saying goodbye to his grandma—all held within the capsule of a month. This mighty big pill is currently lodged in my mind, leaving me with crumbs of insistent thoughts that will find no other way out except out (or swallowed). So today, even if only for myself, I need to couch the weight of these thoughts inside lofty, bittersweet black cookies and get them out.
The new year. Bittersweet. Full of so much hope and so many what-ifs. I wake up every January 1st with a pit in my stomach, wondering if I did enough. This phase of motherhood makes the pit extra big because enough looks so different than it did 3.5 years ago, pre-baby. It looks so much smaller now. And then tax season starts. And my brain doesn’t work the way tax season works, so hello anxiety.
The political climate. Or maybe the friend/family/neighbor climate? Bitter. I haven’t found the sweet yet. I’m drained by the fighting and the “you’re ignorant” hurls on Facebook. I’ve said and thought both. I’m sure you have too. But I question if any good has come from it. I hate when people make me feel stupid. I hate it. I completely disengage. And yet, I’m certain I’ve made some of the closest people to me feel that way. I’m sorry. I think there’s a third way to handle this—our differences. I haven’t landed on it yet. So in the meantime, I’m holding my tongue (as best as I can), listening (as best as I can), until I settle on something a little more productive.
But if I could say one thing—maybe I’m breaking my tongue-holding rule right now—share your experiences and listen to others. It’s impossible to know, really know, life from all angles. From the stirrups of a medical table, to the tall leather chair of an executive desk, to the wallet of food stamps. We all have something to give and something to receive. At least that’s what my pastor says to a sea of diverse people every Sunday—diverse from skin color, economic status, life experiences, and probably even beliefs. I’m beginning to think it takes more effort to receive than it does to give. Maybe there’s a pitfall in that.
My friends, Lindsay and Bjork. Bittersweet, heavy on the bitter. You can read more of their story here and here. They met and lost their sweet baby Afton within the capsule of 24 hours. How do you ever swallow that pill? We were just talking about baby boy names the week before over pizza and bibimbap bowls. About how boy names are so much harder than girl names. Light conversation, you know? And then everything turned bitter. I’m in the process of figuring out how to grieve well with people you love. I’m very good at trying to make things better. Sitting in the grief is not my natural stance. But I’m sitting and probably doing lots of things wrong, but I’m sitting.
Kev’s grandma. Bittersweet, heavier on the sweet. She lived a full and long life into her nineties. She made lemon meringue pie from scratch and kept everyone on their toes until last Friday. Her loss is significant and sudden, but the memories of her life are sweet. As you can guess, we’ve had a lot of conversations with Hal over the last month about death. She’s teaching me heaps about it through her questions. Before we left for Afton’s funeral she asked, “Why are you going to say goodbye if he’s already gone?” The proximity of death to life is so strange and impossible. In all this bittersweet-ness, I’m left with ellipses, question marks, and a full pillbox, pills that must be swallowed. Eventually.
And that leaves us with these Bittersweet Black Cookies. What you came for. They’re one part Sarah Kieffer, fives parts Rustica, one part MilkJam, and all parts Minneapolis. I started with Sarah’s chocolate cookies from her new book, added the darkest black cocoa powder as a nod to my favorite ice cream scoop from MilkJam, and adjusted the wet to dry ratio so that they’d keep their height like Rustica’s cookies. Maybe it’s because I’m short, but I prefer a little height to my cookies. They’re dark, sweet enough, a touch crispy, and plenty soft.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you and I’m sorry. Thank you for letting me get this out. And I’m sorry that this conversation is a little more one-sided than I’d like. In a perfect world, we’d be sitting at a table over coffee, with these cookies, exchanging our experiences. Because there’s just no way you can experience it all. Speaking of experiencing, if you’re not into baking or near Minneapolis, you can order these cookies from Rustica. Just be warned, they might make you move to Minneapolis. They had that effect on us. In that case, we can just schedule that coffee date.
These cookies are dark and bitter and plenty sweet. A perfect harmony if you ask me. When testing, I took them to the point of fudge, and then backed down a little. See the notes below on sourcing ingredients for this recipe.
1 1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
3/4 c. (12 tbsp.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 c. bread flour
2/3 c. black cocoa powder*
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 c. pure cane sugar
Preheat oven to 350° and line two baking sheets with a Silpat or parchment paper. Set aside. Into a stand mixer, cream together brown sugar and butter on medium speed until pale and fluffy, stopping and scraping down the sides every so often.
Meanwhile, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.
Once the butter has been well creamed, add in the egg and extract. Mix on medium-low until incorporated, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Stop the mixer and add in the dry ingredients. Mix on low until evenly combined, no longer. Once again, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the chocolate chips for a couple seconds until evenly distributed. Dough will be semi-dry and dense.
Into a small bowl, add the cane sugar. Using a tablespoon spring release scoop, scoop two dough balls, form into a single dough ball, and roll in sugar. Place 12 on the prepared baking sheet. Baked from 10-11 minutes. Cookies will crack once done baking but will feel a little soft to the touch. Remove from the oven and carefully place on a cooling rack. Cookies will firm up, yielding a slight crunch on the exterior with a fudgy, soft interior. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
• Why Bread Flour? Purely because that’s what Rustica uses for these cookies. I think the extra gluten helps to keep the height of the cookie while offsetting the high amounts of cocoa powder. Note: I haven’t tested this recipe with all-purpose flour.
• Good cocoa powder is key in this recipe. I tested two types—Black Cocoa from King Arthur and Cacao Berry Cocoa Powder. I also use Black Cocoa in my vegan Black Ice Cream. I had planned to use it throughout all my tests but ran out midway. It’s currently out of stock on Amazon Prime, so I switched to Cacao Berry, which is noted in the ingredient list on the Rustica cookies. The flavor is brilliant, and it’s on Amazon Prime. You can still order the Black Cocoa directly from the King Arthur site if you’ve got the patience.
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