Bob Dylan said the times are a-changin’ and Buddhism wisely imparts that the only permanence is impermanence, but I would like to add that I don’t have to like it. I suppose it’s more accurate to say that I’ll like it if it’s good but not if it’s bad. The thing is, it’s often good and bad, all mixed together. Case in point: Our family is in a fair amount of flux at the moment with a career change for my husband and my daughter’s departure for college. That’s a big ol’ bucket of potentialities, right there. I long for — I don’t even know what I long for. Stability and security? A vacation? A whole day without an electric current of barely repressed, jittery anxiety buzzing through my body?
Or maybe what I want is simple. It’s the Three Cs: Carbs, Cookies and Coffee. Yes, I know that cookies are also carbs, but they’re a specific kind of carbohydrate with sugar and fat, so that puts them in a category of their own. And I know that coffee won’t help my anxiety, but it tastes good with cream and honey. (If my doctor is reading this, we’ll talk soon, I’m sure.)
I was already on the lookout for decadent cookie recipes when my darling daughter, who sometimes brings me gifts of food like a cat proudly offers up recently murdered mice, presented me with two bags of large white marshmallows. She knew that I would devise some way to bake them up into tasty treats. Because this is the season of marshmallows (what with pastel mini-marshmallows and marshmallow chicks and other marshmallow treats), I thought that these chewy chocolate crackle cookies might help you use up some of your marshmallows, too.
I must give credit where credit is due and note that, although similar recipes can be found all over the internet, I took my inspiration from southernplate.com and sugarsaltmagic.com, but of course I gave it my own embellishments, adding a dash of cinnamon and a bit of orange zest.
Start by turning the oven to 400 degrees, lightly greasing a large cookie sheet and putting 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a small bowl to use later. In a separate bowl, sift together 3 cups of flour, 2/3 cups cocoa, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda. In another large mixing bowl, cream 2 sticks of softened butter, ½ cup loosely packed brown sugar, and 2/3 cups granulated sugar. Mix in 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon vanilla and 1-2 teaspoons fresh orange zest. (If orange zest and cinnamon don’t appeal to you, try replacing them with ½ teaspoon of mint extract.) Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
You’ll end up with a stiff, slightly sticky dough. Chill it for 15 or 20 minutes then remove it and get ready to roll. (That’s a pun, as you’ll soon see.) Grab a small handful of dough, about a heaping tablespoon, and roll it into a ball. Holding the ball in one hand, squash it flat with the palm of your other hand, creating a flat, more-or-less circular shape. Take a whole marshmallow and put it into the center of the dough-circle. Peel the edges of the dough off your palm and carefully work the dough up the sides of the marshmallow and around the top until the marshmallow is completely covered in about a 1/8 inch thickness of dough, maybe slightly more. There shouldn’t be any little bits of white visible. If you can see any, patch them up with extra pinches of dough. Helpful hint: Dry hands seem to work better with this than moistened ones.
You can also try rolling the dough around three to six mini marshmallows or chop up some leftover Peeps and give your cookies spring-hued flair. (If you do try the Peeps, email me pictures because I want to see those multicolored beauties.)
Next, roll the dough around in your hands to make it more evenly round, then roll it in the 1/3 cup sugar you set aside earlier. When you place them on the cookie sheet, make sure there’s a comfortable 2-3 inches between every cookie because they really spread out as they bake and some marshmallow will leak out the side. Put the cookies in the fridge to chill for another 15 or 20 minutes, then pop them in the oven and bake them for 8 or 9 minutes until the cookies flatten out and you can see marshmallow poking out the top. (I tried 10 minutes, but the marshmallows totally dissolved. Nine minutes seemed to be the optimum baking time for the peek-a-boo marshmallow effect.)
Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool on the sheet for at least five minutes before using a metal spatula to carefully transfer the cookies to a foil-covered wire rack. You’ll need to use a metal spatula because the marshmallow will have broiled to a hard candy consistency, requiring concerted hacking or jabbing to remove the cookies from the pan. The foil (or parchment paper) is necessary because the cookies are still a little oozy at this point and might sag through bare wires, although they’ll firm up considerably as they reach room temperature.
The sugar coating on these cookies provides a wonderful crackly top. Every cookie will look a little different. Sometimes the marshmallow will disappear and sometimes it will remain visible, fjords of white crisscrossing the jagged chocolate terrain. Occasionally the marshmallow will melt a hole in the middle of the cookie, but does that really matter? It’s still just as delicious.
As I mixed the flour, cocoa, butter and sugar, I felt my nervous jitters dissipate. I played Billie Holiday on the stereo and opened the back door to admit the pale spring sunshine and sounds of bird song. The gentle, repetitive actions of rolling the dough in my hands returned me to myself. Anxiety is just energy with no place to go, I figured. By giving myself a task, I created a focus for that energy. I got out of my head and simply enjoyed the physicality of making something, followed by the further pleasure of eating something.
I often tell myself, during moments when I’m not sure what to do, “When you can’t see very far, go as far as you can see,” a loose paraphrase of similar quotes attributed to Dawson Trotman and J.P. Morgan. Today, I will go as far as the cookie.
3 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
2 sticks room temperature butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
1-2 teaspoons orange zest
1 bag large marshmallows