Lara’s Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies

If you open my sister’s freezer, there will be two neatly labeled tupperware. One says espresso, the other cayenne. Each is filled with deep brown, near-perfect spheres of dough, ready to bake off at a moment’s notice. That level of pre-planning and organization makes me wonder whether she’s adopted. She also somehow has the self-control not eat them all on day one which makes me convinced she’s an altogether different species. But when there’s a party or a BBQ, she’s ready and shows up with two plates stacked with cookies and each plate is neatly labeled espresso and cayenne – HOT.

We’re offering three iterations here. They all use the same base recipe that’s very rich and quite forgiving as long as you chill the dough. The espresso version is (of course) our favorite. We use one packet of Alpine Start’s powdered instant coffee, but any instant coffee or espresso works. 3/4 of a teaspoon of cayenne give them a nice bit of heat without overdoing it and goes great with Mexican food or a summer cookout. For the holidays we go peppermint extract and roll them in powdered sugar. They’re festively delicious and they look stunning, like little glaciers of deliciousness. See variations below.

Cream together butter, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at time. In a separate bowl, mix and sift together dry ingredients. Sifting makes sure there aren’t leavening clumps and gets the cocoa distributed evenly. Add dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture in two additions. As with all cookies and confections, be sure not to over-mix as that will activate the gluten in the flour and resulting in small, sad bricks instead of cookies. Stir in chocolate chips. Chill dough at least 2 hours before baking.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Form dough balls around an inch in diameter or slightly larger for bigger cookies and space them about 2″ apart on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. Bake for 9-11 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. For fun, test your self-control against Lara’s (knowing you will lose).

10 tbls (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter or veggie shortening, softened 1 c light brown sugar, packed

1 c sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract 

— — —

2 ½ c all-purpose flour

¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbls instant espresso powder for Espresso (see variations below)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

12 oz (1 ½ cups) semisweet chocolate chips

Pro tips:

  1. Frozen dough is good for several months in a well-sealed container and you can go from freezer to oven directly. Reduce heat to 350º and cook for 12 minutes (depending on your oven). Bonus points if you make two kinds and neatly label them. Make Lara proud.
  1. For the powdered sugar version (you can do this with any flavor, but it’s especially well-suited to peppermint) cover the balls with a heavy coat of powdered sugar before baking. Really go heavy to where the sugar is falling off the ball—otherwise the cookies end up with a thin grey coating of sugar (not festive) and the beautiful contrast with the deep chocolate valleys is lost. 


  1. Cayenne: Add ¾ tsp ground cayenne pepper instead of espresso powder. You can add more or less to suit, but this much offers good heat without causing permanent psychological damage any unsuspecting child who downs a handful.
  2. Peppermint: Simply swap 1 tsp peppermint extract for the vanilla. We bring them to every holiday party and they’re a hit. 

Best Molecule Ever

When a hungry insect decides to chomp on one of the 60-odd plant species that have evolved to produce caffeine, the effect is not exactly a morning pick-me-up. Almost instantly the hapless snacker’s nervous system stops producing essential enzymes, which causes immediate paralysis and death. But don’t worry – a lethal dose in humans is more than 10 grams of caffeine, or some 62 gallons of coffee.

Instead, when you drink coffee, tea and the like, caffeine passes directly through the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream. It’s dispersed quickly and completely with 99% of it being absorbed within 45 minutes. (As with alcohol, food slows absorption.) It sloshes around inside your bloodstream, eventually making its way to your liver, where it’s metabolized into paraxanthine (another stimulant) and finally eliminated in urine. It’s a process that takes around five to eight hours. A crafty molecule, caffeine is both hydrophilic and lipophilic, meaning it can pass through most cell walls and – thank heavens – the blood-brain barrier. 

Once safely in your grey matter, caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors (adenosine is a pesky compound that makes you feel sleepy), causing the release of norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin and glutamate — a family of chemicals that makes you feel awake, alert and in general pretty ready to get shit done. And while caffeine increases energy metabolism in the brain, it reduces cerebral blood flow which causes a hypoperfusion — in other words, caffeine likes to make you feel awesome and sticks around awhile. All of this helps explain why caffeine is the single most popular stimulant on the planet, consumed by 90% of the world’s humans. In the United States, most of that is in the form of coffee, with 70 to 83% of Americans having at least one cup a day.

One cup — what does that even mean? Unless you’re trapped in a Leave it to Beaver episode, it does not mean a 6-oz cup. But then again, it probably doesn’t mean a halfgallon travel mug. More than likely, the ceramic coffee cups in your kitchen are in the 12-14oz range. To-go coffee cups and mugs are usually a bit larger (around 16oz). In general, a 16-oz cup of specialty drip coffee has 200-300mg of caffeine. A single shot of espresso has 75-100mg of caffeine (most coffee espresso drinks are double shots, so 150-200mg)

The reason for the ranges? Brewing methods and brewing time, even plant species, affect caffeine levels.The arabica species of beans, the good stuff, has slightly less caffeine gram for gram than robusta (think old school canned coffee). A nice pharmacological boost depends on factors like your tolerance and weight, but in general you get a solid lift from 200-400mg. More than 400mg can start to mess with sleep cycles and could cause you to have dreams where you’re trapped on a hot air balloon arguing with Cher about the difference between a pillow sham and a pillow cover. (At least, that’s what we hear.)

Caffeine’s magical awesomeness is pretty clear, but did you know? Caffeine… 

French Press Coffee Ice Cream

Our search for the best coffee ice cream recipe was arduous, especially all the sampling, but we persevered. We landed on a version of Philadelphia-style ice cream which skips the eggs and custard cooking of traditional ice cream. This simpler iteration has just five ingredients and we brew the coffee French-press-style which gives it a rich, intense coffee flavor. Plus, it’s quick and simple to make so there’s no reason (well, no good reason) not to make it every night. We call it French press because that’s the easiest way to strain out the grounds, but a fine mesh sieve works as well.

  1. Warm cream, milk and sugar over medium heat dissolving the sugar and heat until hot and steaming but not boiling.
  2. Remove from heat and add coffee stirring to make sure all of the grounds are wetted. Let steep for three minutes and transfer to the french press and press the plunger. If you don’t have a French press you can strain the mixture with a fine sieve.
  3. Cool the mixture overnight and then make in your ice-cream maker per manufacturer’s instructions.

3 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk

¾ cup light brown sugar

¾ cup (60 g) coarse (french press) ground coffee

1 pinch of salt

Pro tips:

  1. If you let out a long, sad sigh at “cool overnight,” we’re here for you. For a fast ice cream fix, cool the mixture in a metal bowl set in an ice bath for five to ten minutes stirring occasionally. Transfer it to the freezer stirring with a whisk every 20 minutes for about an hour. It will start to freeze on the sides, scrape it down and whisk into the rest of the liquid. After two or three scrape-downs, it’s ready for the ice cream maker. Follow manufacturer instructions. It will be ready to eat soft-server style right out of the ice cream maker. It will be ready to scoop in a few hours.
  1. No ice cream maker? You can follow the above instructions for faster ice cream and simply continue to freeze, whisk, freeze, process for several hours until it has the consistency of soft serve. Then just let it freeze for good. This will make for a less smooth ice cream, but hey it’s still ice cream.
  1. Temper the ice cream. Without the eggs and cooking of traditional ice cream this version may be denser and firmer than what you’re used to. If you can wait a few minutes for it to just start to soften it will scoop and serve better.


Mocha: Dissolve ¼ cup of powdered cocoa in the warm milk before adding the coffee to brew. Java Chip: Fold in ½ cup chocolate chips after the ice cream comes out of the maker with a soft serve consistency. You’ll want to do this quickly so that it doesn’t melt. Cappuccino: Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon to the warm milk before adding the coffee. Middle Eastern: Add ½ teaspoon cinnamon and five crushed cardamom pods to the warm milk.