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work with it

Recipe: chocolate crackles (cookies)

Hey! Did you catch the lunar eclipse Saturday morning? I spent all day Friday watching the weather reports online as well as out my door. I had every intention of waking up early to watch the eclipse, but it goes without saying that if I could shoot the moon, I would. Toward evening there were blobbish clouds overhead and mildly gusty winds. Where I live, 55 mph is what we start to call “windy”, but 25 mph gusts are generally mild conditions… except when you want to photograph a lunar eclipse. I got my gear ready and tried to get to bed before midnight.

full moon

My alarm went off at 4am and I quietly bundled up in layers, tip-toeing around in the dark. I popped my contacts in, told Kaweah to go back to her bed (she didn’t, she waited at the door until Jeremy woke up), and stepped outside the bedroom. On the deck it was in the teens. To my delight, the clouds had moved out and the wind had periods of calm between gusts. I could live with that. Due to my location on the planet, the moon would set before I could witness it reach totality. Due to my local geography, the moon dropped below the Continental Divide before that! But, you make the most of what you get. It’s a beautiful phenomenon to witness regardless.

composite of the lunar eclipse

pink rays of sunrise on james peak not long after moonset

Back in August 2007, I attempted my first capture of a lunar eclipse. I totally didn’t know what I was doing, but we all have to start someplace or else we can’t ever expect to get anywhere. And it’s sooooo cool!

august 2007 total lunar eclipse composite

I can’t say I know all that much now, just that I have screwed up sufficiently in the past to have learned what not to do today. Every time I shoot, it’s a learning experience. I must thank my friends at Pro Photo Rental for the use of their lovely 200-400mm f4 Nikkor lens. Sometimes size DOES matter…

can you have a crush on a lens? because i think i do

It’s crunch time over here which means all manner of cookies and confections are marching their way through my kitchen. Each year I try to add one new recipe because I like variety and it keeps me on my toes. Jeremy reminded me that people who are gifted cookies once a year generally don’t get upset if you have some repeats. In fact, he said, his administrative staff request the lemon-ginger cookies each year. I waved him off and said I had a new recipe in mind to try and that it should be easy.

let’s get crackin’

In case you are looking for ideas, here are links to some of the goodies I like to gift this time of year (I tend not to make French macarons over the holidays because they don’t ship easily and have a rather finite shelf life):

almond crunch cookies
chinese almond cookies
coconut macaroons
cranberry oatmeal cookies
espresso chocolate chip shortbreads
lemon ginger cookies
lime meltaways
macadamia shortbreads
mexican wedding cookies
pistachio sandies
raspberry cream cheese cookies

brownies, bars, cakes, quick breads:
chocolate chip banana bread
cream cheese brownies
macadamia nut chocolate chip blondies
rice crispy treats (with sprinkles)
zucchini nut bread

candied lemon slices
chocolate truffles
macadamia nut orange brittle
pepita brittle
peppermint bark
vanilla bean caramels

boozy infusions and other goodies:
buddha’s hand citron vodka
membrillo (quince paste)
pear liqueur
sugar plums
homemade vanilla extract

And here’s the newest addition to the repertoire… chocolate crackles.

sugars, cocoa, eggs, butter, chocolate chips, milk, vanilla, flour, salt, baking powder

mix the dry ingredients

This is an easy recipe. At least, it’s supposed to be. Any cookie with a leavening agent in the recipe gives me pause, because there is substantially less atmospheric pressure here than at sea-level. I’ve had more than my fair share of cookie disasters thanks to my elevation of 8500 feet. So I was wary going into to this cookie.

start with light brown sugar and butter

melt the chocolate

The cookies are supposed to be somewhat domed and thick. My first batch nearly ran together into one large, thin, and extra-crispy cookie. Even when you’re used to expecting this kind of fiasco, you still cringe. My general rule of thumb is to try all recipes at their sea-level version first because sometimes they work just fine. Once they fail, then I can start making adjustments.

beat eggs and vanilla into the creamed sugar and butter

then add the chocolate

Recipe testing is not my strong suit. Hell, patience is not my strong suit. I still had half of the dough left, so I added flour to increase structure since I couldn’t remove baking powder. It helped a little. Then I added more… and more… and finally, I got a cookie that resembled a cookie rather than a wafer.

mix in the flour alternating with the milk

a sticky cookie dough

So I’m assuming that this recipe works as is for those below 3000 feet in elevation. I looked online and this specific recipe has met with success elsewhere. I checked the measurements on several blog posts and they are the same as what I originally started with. If you’re at elevation, I suggest reducing the baking powder (maybe by a quarter teaspoon or up to a half teaspoon at my elevation), increasing the flour (as much as 1 1/2 cups for me), and increasing the salt (to 1/2 teaspoon for me). You can also try reducing the light brown sugar, but I wouldn’t do too much as you’ll lose some flavor. Anyway, all of my modifications for 8500 feet are in parentheses in the recipe below.

roll dough into 1-inch diameter balls

first roll in granulated sugar

then roll in powdered sugar

I also had to reduce the baking time although I didn’t futz with the baking temperature (too many variables will just make me angry). On my fifth iteration, I managed to get a 3-inch diameter cookie with a crunchy outside and fudgy inside. I think they’re lovely despite the powdered sugar mess they make when you eat them.

place on parchment-lined baking sheet


Another reason I like these cookies is because they make me think of plate tectonics. But even if you don’t have a geophysics bent, they’re festive and snowy which is perfect right about now. I wasn’t in much of mood to wrestle with this recipe, but I’m glad I did because these are wonderful, happy cookies to share. I hope the recipients like them!


Chocolate Crackles
[print recipe]
from Martha Stewart’s Cookies

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (2 1/2 cups @8500 ft.)
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 tsps baking powder (1 1/2 tsps @8500 ft.)
1/4 tsp coarse salt (1/2 tsp @8500 ft.)
1/2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed (1 1/4 cups @8500 ft.)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (2 tsps @8500 ft.)
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a hot water bath or on medium-low power in a microwave, stirring occasionally. Set aside to let cool. Sift (or whisk) the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Beat the butter and light brown sugar together for a couple of minutes until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then beat in the melted chocolate. Slowly mix half of the flour into the butter mixture. Mix in half of the milk until incorporated. Mix the remaining flour and then the milk until combined. Place the dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours or until the dough is firm. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pinch off pieces from the dough and roll into 1-inch balls. Coat each dough ball in granulated sugar then in powdered sugar and place 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until the surfaces crack – about 14 minutes (10 minutes @8500 ft.). You can rotate the baking sheets halfway through the baking time, but I didn’t need to. Remove from baking sheets to cooling racks until completely cooled. Store cookies between layers of parchment or wax paper in airtight containers at room temperature. Good for up to 3 days. Makes 60 cookies.

29 nibbles at “work with it”

  1. la domestique says:

    Thanks for sharing your photos of the eclipse- such fun to see it through your lens!

  2. Amy says:

    I just made these exact things today !! Yours look beautiful though — and I think I have a crush on that lens as well?

  3. Sawsan@chef in disguise says:

    I love chocolate crackle cookies
    Thank you for sharing your recipe and that amazing list of treats for me to explore

  4. barbara says:

    Delicious. What we call chocolate crackles down here are rice bubbles coated with cocoa and copha and spooned into a muffin paper and popular at little kids parties. I like your style better Jen.

  5. Cindy says:

    I made these Saturday, but my recipe calls for oil (not butter), and melted unsweetened chocolate squares. There were other minor variations too – especially baking powder, rather than soda. More than one way to skin a cat? I these cookies. Like itty-bitty round brownie bites. Pretty darn cute, too!

  6. Cindy says:

    oops. I love these cookies.

  7. laura h says:

    What is the name of that mountain?

  8. Caitlin says:

    Of course you’d bring up plate tectonics :P Gotta love the geekiness!

  9. Connie says:

    I am up in the mountains above Jamestown Colorado and saw the eclipse as it was going down behind the great divide. Great picture of Long’s Peak.

  10. Kel says:

    Wonderful moon pictures! I was looking forward to seeing what you posted and wish I knew how to take such pictures. I woke up in the middle of the night and went outside to see the partial eclipse. Very fun! and cold…

  11. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    That lens is intense! Love it! I just made these cookies this weekend! Love ’em!

  12. Jill says:

    yum……..oh my those look good!

    Great pics….love the pink mountain.

  13. Melissa | Dash of East says:

    Yum! These cookies look delicious and beautifully geeky!

    I’m going to need some moon photographing tips. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing – but maybe a giant lens rental would be a good place to start :)

  14. jo-lyn@jo-lyn's cup cakes n' candies says:

    chocolatey indeed! :)

  15. vanillasugarblog says:

    so here i am at the beach with my iphone trying to capture the moon (fri night) as it was rising while everyone else had your type cameras. i kept telling myself, “one day one day I will have a big girl camera”.
    Jenn, those moon photos are INSANE. I mean wow, really WOW.
    Would have loved to have been able to do exactly that….one day, i know.

  16. Lizzy (Good Things - Australia) says:

    These sound quite divine, and look great too. Thank you for sharing, and also the photos of the eclipse, which we missed due to cloud cover.

  17. Tracy says:

    One of my favorite cookies! Interesting to see your altitude alterations. Here at 1020 ft, we don’t have to think of such things, and I didn’t realize so many elements had to be changed. The doubling of the vanilla, in particular surprised me.

    I went out with my dog early on Saturday (brrrr) to view the eclipse from a bridge over the Mississippi in my neighborhood, where I wouldn’t have to watch it from behind very old, very tall trees. But I only had my iPhone along, which was inadequate, and horizon clouds obscured the moon before the eclipse was half over. So I very much appreciate seeing your gorgeous photos and will make it my mission to practice with my real camera on run-of-the-mill full moons over the next three years so I’m ready for the next total lunar eclipse.

    Thanks for sharing the recipe and the photos!

  18. Donna says:

    I love the photos! As always, you absolutely amaze me.

  19. nicole {sweet peony} says:

    i’ve always loved crinkle cookies & yours are gorgeous!

  20. Priya says:

    Love these cookies, thank you so much for the recipe, followed it to the T and it worked out great. The first batch is just out of the oven and a few are already missing :) Now I need to pack & ship’em out before I finish it all!

  21. John says:

    why will they only be good for up to 3 days?

  22. Ali says:

    Thank you so much for your list of treats! I loved seeing so many of my favourite holiday cookies on your list.

  23. Mollie says:

    my grandma made these every year and i never got her recipe. i think i’m going to make these this week. xoxo

  24. Margie says:

    So much to say, “Thank-you” for, but hopefully you already know how much I appreciate your posts. The lunar eclipse is spectacular, the links so appreciated, and that newest recipe is beautiful and bookmarked! :)

  25. Cooking Rookie says:

    I’ve been meaning to make chocolate crackle cookies for a year now! This is the final straw – your post must have been fate talking to me: I’m making them this weekend!

  26. Jane M says:

    I’ve baked these cookies MANY times and the funny thing is, I’ve already committed to a friend to bake these for a SUNDAY afternoon party! YIPPEE!

  27. Cooking Rookie says:

    I just made them – yum! So good! It’s my first time making chocolate crackle cookies, they taste like a crunchier version of brownies, delish! My only issue was – I have not noticed your instructions on first rolling them in granulated sugar and then in the icing one. I just mixed both sugars together and rolled the cookies in the mix, and as a result some of them absorbed the sugar and did not have that pretty snowy coating :-(. They still taste great though, and I will now remember the trick for the next time :-) Thanks so much for the recipe!

  28. jenyu says:

    la domestique – thank you.

    Amy – they’re great cookies, no?

    Sawsan – you’re so welcome!

    barbara – oooh, those sound fun, B! I love the naming convention in Australia. So much more fun :)

    Cindy – I have seen many different variations on the cookies. As long as they taste good!

    laura – James Peak

    Caitlin – well, you know… surface of a sphere ;)

    Connie – oh, that’s not Longs, it’s James, but thank you!

    Kel – yes, cold indeed. But worth it!

    Katrina – awesome :)

    Jill – thank you, I think I sent you some? I can’t remember which folks got which cookies…

    Melissa – My mentor and friend Michael Frye had a nice post about photographing the moon/eclipse:

    jo-lyn – :)

    vanillasugarblog – see the link I posted for Melissa, it has great info on how to shoot an eclipse.

    Lizzy – you’re very welcome!

    Tracy – well, at higher altitude, flavors tend to diminish during baking and so I usually increase sugar and spices or other flavors by a bit.

    Donna – thank you!

    nicole – oh, you’re sweet. These were a tad flat. The “adjusted” versions were more dome-shaped and proper :)

    Priya – yay, that’s wonderful to hear!

    John – I’m not sure since I gave all of mine away before 3 days, but I’m guessing they will either dry out or become stale?

    Ali – you’re very welcome and I’m glad you like many of the same things I do :)

    Mollie – xxoo

    Margie – any time!

    Cooking Rookie – yeah, it was on my list for longer than that – I’m such a dork sometimes… Anyway, glad they turned out well. And yes, if you do the granulated first and then the powdered sugar, it will look prettier :)

    Jane – wow, you’re a good friend!

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