Unusual flavor combinations have always appealed to me. Since childhood, I’ve stuffed all manner of happy accidents into my mouth–from Doritos dipped in cottage cheese to cinnamon-roll sandwiches. I’ve mellowed out some, but to this day I often put cheese in my pie and a fried egg anywhere it seems reasonable. . . . Put a bird on it, as the kids say.
Though the flavors in this Mexican-inspired cookie aren’t so unusual, the smoke from the ancho chile and mild heat from the cayenne pepper deepen the chocolate’s flavor and balance the sweetness perfectly. Basically that means it’s ok to eat two of these at a time, which I do when no one is looking (I’ll unhinge my jaw like a snake for the right cookie, so please avert your eyes).
I made a version of these for the first time five years ago, and I did little to adapt the original Martha Stewart recipe. Since, I have found that using rehydrated ancho chiles instead of powder provides notes of complex smokiness that you can’t achieve otherwise. Then I added some espresso powder, cayenne pepper, and chunks of chocolate for good measure. The result is a cookie worthy of the name Mexican Hot Chocolate.
I will inform you in my best Ina Garten voice that, if you can’t visit your local Mexican grocery for dried anchos, store-bought chile powder is fine. But sometimes life is worth the effort, and the people who try have always been the ones for me (I rarely make friends in the back row). So get to the mercado and get to work. Because you can taste the effort in these cookies, and it’s probably the secret ingredient.
- 2⅓ cups flour
- 1 tbsp espresso powder
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder
- 2 tsp cream of tartar
- 1½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp coarse salt
- ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper, adjusted to taste
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 dried ancho chile, rehydrated
- 1¾ cup sugar, divided
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp Mexican vanilla
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 6 oz semi-sweet or dark chocolate, roughly chopped
- Rehydrate the chile (if using powder skip to step #2): remove the stem and slice the chile lengthwise and discard the seeds. Heat a pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Once hot, sear the chile on each side for about a minute, being careful not to burn. Soak the seared chile in a bowl of boiling water for about 30 minutes, occasionally pushing any exposed bits down. After the chile is soaked, remove to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade. Pulse until chile is a fine paste.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Combine the dry ingredients: in a large bowl, whisk together flour, espresso powder, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, coarse salt, and cayenne pepper if desired (whisk in chile powder as well if not using rehydrated ancho).
- In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and 1½ cups sugar. If using chile paste, add to this mixture so that the smoky ancho flavor will fully incorporate with the fat. Beat until creamy, at least 5 minutes.
- Add eggs to butter mixture one at a time and then vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture until just combined. Add chocolate.
- Transfer dough to the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.
- Combine ¼ cup sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll dough into tablespoon-sized balls and dip in sugar/cinnamon mixture. Place balls at least 3 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are set in the center and begin to crack.Transfer to wire racks to cool. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.