Mocha Cigarettes Russes

I'm sitting here admiring the smear of peacock under my ankle, admiring how rapidly bruises fade. I got two emails this morning from friends who told me "things were getting better." In fact, this seems to be the sentiment of most conversations these days.

All the optimism seems appropriate for the start of a new year. I'm tempted to delve into reflection on how much has shifted in 12 months, but it would take too long. A year ago I was doing a traditional Rosh Hashanah cooking marathon. This year this is all I have stamina for.

I'd like to celebrate every calendar's new year because I'm hooked on having a chance to try again. I guess I also need more than a yearly kick in the butt to reassess. Besides, mid-winter doesn't feel like a good time to start anew (and the obligatory Jan. 1st headache doesn't help). Fall seems more logical as a time-gauge to me. The change of season is more dramatic: days suddenly get short, kids head off to school in a bicycle swarm, armed with freshly clicked mechanical pencils, apples drop in price, and I dig out a few sweaters (because I own only a few).

A year ago, the train tracks were lined with white and fuschia oleander bushes. We were ending a heat wave. This year we were also ending a heat wave, but the floral edging is now chain-link. Even though we said our goodbyes and I put the specter to rest, there still is a tinge of that feeling when I see the lack of flowers. It's like half-hollowness or heartbreak-by-proxy; like sadness not over what is missing, but what could have been; like a little hole bore in me as a marker. But it's gotten better. It's getting better. Pass the spackle.

What I love about the new year is the possibility for things to look up, and this year I think we have extra hope. (To be totally uncharacteristic,) I want to dedicate this post to all the babies coming into the world this year. I know of a few (here's one) and have a strong sense there are more that I haven't heard about yet. They have the ultimate fresh start. It may not be the best economy to be born in to, but I'm sure the buoyancy and love floating around this year will make up for the lack of dough. It really will get better and better.

Cigarette cookies are a type of tuile that is wrapped around a chopstick or pencil rather than draped over a larger diameter rod. They are often made with citrus or nut flavors and are sometimes filled. I decided against the delicate flavor for these ones. I wanted to make dark little tunnels with a light at the end, so I went mocha to get a deep tone. (They also might make good straws for your coffee or White Russian.) Don't be scared because of the nimbleness and grace required--I only possess one of these traits and I managed.

Mocha Cigarettes Russes
  • 3 egg whites (buy and handle wisely, folks)
  • 3/8 C flour
  • 1/8 C cocoa powder
  • 3/4 C powdered sugar
  • 1/3 C butter (5 1/3 T), melted
  • 1 1/2 tsp instant coffee powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cinnamon
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with a Silpat, parchment, or just butter.

Whisk egg whites until loosened. Stir in melted butter and instant coffee granules. In a separate bowl, sift flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, & cinnamon. Whisk the dries into the egg mixture until blended. Bake in batches of 4 at a time (grueling!) by dropping by even teaspoons 4 inches apart on the sheet. Spread each cookie out with an offset spatula until it is a 3 inch round. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until edges brown very slightly. Remove from the oven and, working quickly, use a flexible spatula (or your iron fingertips) to roll the cookies around a chopstick or other small dowel. Slip them off the dowel immediately and let cool on a rack. They'll hold their shape as they cool. If they get too brittle to work with, pop them back in the oven for a minute and try again.

Once cool, melt the chocolate. Dip the ends of the cookies in the melted chocolate and let cool on a piece of parchment. Store the cooled cookies in an airtight container, as they will soften with moisture in the air.