All Grown Up, with Gin

According to my calendar, there are 20 days until Christmas. Some might say this is the time to get to your nearest mall and start shopping. I, on the other hand, think it’s a good time to get to New York City and start baking, if not in that order.

On Saturday, I’ll be taking a nonstop to the east coast, where two very lively brunettes will collect me and then drive me all the way up to Brooklyn, baby, where a very lively redhead will join us. We’ll then rush the man of the hour, Kevin, who is serving as our gracious host for a short weekend of ice-skating, Christmas-lights-gazing, and (oh, I hope) real-pizza eating.

I met Kev when we were 18 and newly-arrived freshmen at our undergraduate alma mater. There are a few important things you should know about him:

1. He brings a lot of life and a whole lot of dancing to a party.
2. He is one of those rare people who make a great companion for just about any activity.
3. He really listens.
4. He has children’s-clothing-magazine-adorable nieces and nephews.
5. He managed banks for a time.
6. He is kind.

Although most would assume that my husband, Jeff, is the tall, redheaded guy in my life, the truth is that Kev held that position long before him. He was there for our group’s favorite freshman year past time of making Napster playlists and Jello shots, and for somewhere around 252 turkey sandwich lunches in the student center. He was there when we had bean bag chairs in our common room and when we had big, way-too-many-girls-sharing-an-apartment fights in our common room. He gallivanted around Europe with me during our junior year abroad, was the sole audience member to at least four of my 3 am discourses on life, love, and the pursuit of happiness delivered on a musty couch in the corner of the 2nd floor of our international house, and shared a 21st birthday bash with me in the open-air, cobble-stoned Oude Markt in Leuven, Belgium, where it stays light until 10 pm in early summer. He listened—without any eye-rolling-- to several proclamations of “But I think I love him!” in regard to at least two different The Ones, and came all the way to Kentucky when I married The Real One.

In short, he’s a lot of fun, a great friend, and a very good person. Due to distance and daily life, we’ve had our share of long stretches without seeing and/or speaking to each other. A couple of months ago, when we saw each other for the first time in 2 (!) years, I developed a new appreciation for the fact that Kev is one for picking up where we left off, no matter what. And for all of that, I’m bringing the man some cookies.
Gin cookies.

I came across these bad boys while perusing Gourmet's chronicle of Best Cookies Recipes, 1941-2008. Several were intriguing, but the ingredient list for “Maida Heatter’s Chocolate Cookies with Gin-Soaked Raisins” sealed the deal on the spot. It is, of course, Ms. Heather’s prerogative to name her cookies whatever she pleases, but people, chocolate is not the rightful headliner here. I’d christen them Late Night Nutty Gotchas. This is the kind of cookie you enjoy in wintry weather in a big city after a night of martinis, dancing, and sparse outerwear. Devoid of any respectable amount of flour, and rather pert in their refusal of butter or oil, these are rebel cookies. They're light, with crackly tops and chewy centers, and taste not quite like chocolate, not quite like nuts, and not quite like gin. They're not really sure who they are. Which makes them the perfect accompaniment to a brief weekend with people who knew you when tube tops were not a total anomaly in your wardrobe.

This represents Gourmet’s favorite cookie recipe from 2000, and that seemed quite fitting to me. I was a senior in high school then, and I remember that year being rung in by people in a serious tizzy over Y2K and the possibility that computers might take over the world and we’d all have to go underground and live off of Spam. No wonder that by the end of that year everybody was ready to add a slip of liquor to most things, cookies included. Apparently, this recipe is so potent that Gourmet had to issue a byline that read, “Indeed, these cookies are for grown-ups only.”

I actually snickered at this and thought, I’ll show them! before I recalled that, well, I’m a grown-up. And so are my friends. Our college days are eeking their way into the Long Time Ago category. By the end of this decade, we’ll have several Master’s degrees, a doctorate, an attorney, 401Ks, an original play, and weddings between us. I hope that we never get too old for bringing 1.5liter bottles of Gallo wine to BYOB Thai restaurants, but homeownership and offspring can’t be that far down the line.

Yikes. Pass the gin. And the cookies.

Maida Hetters' Chocolate Cookies with Gin-Soaked Raisins

Slightly adapted from Gourmet Magazine's recipe

Consider yourself warned: these cookies received some seriously mixed reviews on Epicurious. Reading them, I was a little surprised and a little heartened by how many people get really worked up over cookies. Just know that these are not meant to accompany a glass of milk for an afternoon snack. They're weird, end of story. Upon sampling one, Jeff remarked, "They taste like popcorn." Consider that another warning: don't overtoast your pecans.

I adapted the recipe slightly with the advice of one of the Epicurious readers, A Cook from Downtown NYC, who, in March of 2002, suggested adding Grand Marnier and orange zest to the recipe. Thanks, Cook from Downtown NYC. I might just see you this Saturday.

Although I tend to groan whenever I see sifting in a recipe, I decided Kev was worth it. Good thing, because I think that my favorite thing about these cookies is their texture. They’ve got a meringue-meets-brownie thing going on. That kind of craziness has got to bode well for this weekend.

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup gin
3 cups sifted confectioners sugar (sift before measuring)
2/3 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process (sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (unsifted)
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
8 oz pecans (2 1/4 cups), toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped

Combine raisins and gin in a cup and let stand at least 8 hours to macerate. I gave them 16.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and butter the parchment paper.

Mix confectioners sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, flour, and salt with an electric mixer at low speed. Add egg whites, vanilla, Grand Marnier and orange peel (if desired) and continue mixing until smooth.

Drain raisins in a sieve, without pressing, then add raisins to dough with pecans. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Dough will be very thick and sticky.

The original recipe, which will make 12 very large cookies, instructs you to drop 1/4 cup dough for each cookie onto a baking sheet, spacing cookies at least 3 inches apart, and gently pat down each mound to about 1/2 inch thick. I decided I’d prefer more and smaller cookies, so I used a heaping tablespoon and fit 16 on each cookie sheet.

Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, in middle of oven, rotating sheet halfway through baking, 15 to 17 minutes total for 12 big ones, or 9-12 minutes for 32 small ones. They are done when cookies appear cracked and the centers are just set. Cool cookies on sheet 1 minute, then transfer carefully to a rack to cool completely.
Makes 12-32 cookies, depending on how big you make your globs. Don’t think I can’t hear you snickering.
Gourmet’s notes: You can soak raisins in gin up to 1 week; cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.

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