I have a vivid memory of being in Venice with my parents in the early 2000s (it’s documented here) when my brother and I decided to freak out our mother by drinking espresso after dinner. We were actually always a coffee-after-dinner family but the coffee was always decaf. To this day, my parents still order decaf if they’re in the mood for a hot beverage after a big meal. But in Italy, drinking espresso after dinner is a tradition and to quote Tevye, “Tradition!” So we drank the espresso and, as far as I can remember, we still fell asleep and all was fine. But my mother’s concern was still on my mind when I made Susan Spungen’s Dirty Chai Earthquake Cookies for a dinner party last week.
The Secret Ingredient is… Espresso
Ever since Craig and I got the Breville Barista Pro we’ve been running a veritable coffee shop out of our kitchen. I’m almost fully capable of making a barista-worthy heart with microfoam and I have to limit myself to two coffee beverages per day or even if I have that second beverage at one o’clock, I’m still jittery at night. Hence the concern over these cookies! They have a full tablespoon of finely ground espresso (not instant) in them.
Granted, that’s one tablespoon distributed over two dozen cookies, so maybe I was being overly cautious. I chose them because I was cooking an Indian feast for our friends Ryan and Joe and I needed a dessert that rounded out the theme. Dirty chai cookies seemed perfect.
More Cookie Secrets
The dough is chock-full of those spunky Chai spices: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and black pepper. The secret ingredient is malted milk powder, which is what makes David Lebovitz’s malted milk ice cream so memorable, and adds a mysterious texture and yeasty flavor to the whole affair.
The coolest part is that you bloom the espresso with browned butter.
It’s Cookie Time
Once the dough comes together (you beat eggs in a mixer with the sugar before working in the other ingredients), you refrigerate it for a few hours so it firms up, and then you scoop tablespoon-sized balls and roll them in both granulated sugar and then powdered sugar.
You freeze for ten minutes, bake for twelve minutes, and then you have a tray of festive, notably complex cookies that are perfect for a wintery meal or an Indian feast. The bitterness of the espresso and the nuttiness of the brown butter plays beautifully against all of the spice and the sweetness. And they won’t keep you up at night. I promise, mom! Unless you eat all twenty four which, considering how good these cookies are, is entirely possible.
Dirty Chai Earthquake Cookies
- 1 tablespoon finely ground espresso (not instant) or finely ground cofee
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (that's 1 stick)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons malted milk powder (I used Carnation)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
- Put espresso in a medium-sized bowl. Cook the butter over medium-high heat in a small saucepan, swirling every so often, allowing it to turn nutty brown (about 5 to 6 minutes). Pour over the espresso, stirring it together, then set it aside.
- Whisk together the flour, malted milk powder, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl.
- In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and light brown sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes until well-combined and lighter in color.
- Add the vanilla and the butter mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary, and mix on low to combine. Add the flour mixture, mix again, and use a rubber spatula to finish the job so you don't overwork the dough. Cover the mixer bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours to firm up. (DIrty chai cookie secret: I only refrigerated for an hour and it was fine.)
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the granulated sugar into one bowl and the powdered sugar into another bowl. Using a small cookie scoop or a tablespoon measure, scoop out heaping tablespoons of dough, roll into a ball, roll in the granulated sugar, then the powdered sugar, and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Leave about two inches of space between the cookies and freeze the tray of cookies for ten minutes before baking.
- Bake until the cookies are golden underneath but still very tender (they'll firm up as they cool), about 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool a few minutes on the baking sheets and then slide the parchment on to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies will keep for up to a week, covered, at room temperature.