The Polar Espresso: Stumptown Shorties

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I feel like an Ovenly fan-girl– I just can’t say enough about their magical little cookbook. Every recipe I’ve tried (here and here, plus Eggnog Sandwich Cookies) has been terrific; not since BAKED have I crushed so hard on a particular bakery’s treats. Brooklyn bakeries have captured my heart!

One of the best things I had when I visited the bakery in October was one of these buttery, espresso-scented, sugar-studded Stumptown Shorties. I was thrilled to find this recipe in the book. I’m not normally drawn to coffee-flavored baked goods, but something about them looked so delicious, perhaps the flecks of espresso grounds and their light cocoa-esque color? I didn’t even realize until I bit into that heavenly little square that there are bits of “burnt” (aka caramelized) sugar in the dough. I kind of wish Agatha and Erin (the Ovenly ladies) would adopt me. *sigh*

I actually made these for Thanksgiving and I’d hoped to blog about them before Christmas, as these are my favorite new holiday cookie. They would be perfect for a cookie exchange or holiday party. But this year, there were SO many things I was determined to bake, and I’m happy to say that I actually baked them all! However, more baking time means less writing time… so here we are in the midst of the post-holiday sugar hangover. But I’m telling you, if you can muster one more cookie recipe in-between January citrus salads and leafy greens, this is it. (And make sure to bookmark it for next December– I promise you’ll be glad you did!) And really, they are not specifically a holiday cookie at all– please, for the love of god, make them all year round.

The shortbread is buttery, crisp, and crumbly– what we hope for every time we bite into a morsel of shortbread. The flavor balance of butter, vanilla, sugar bits, and coffee is utter harmony; I really couldn’t get enough of them. They are sweet, but also possess a beautiful depth from the double-shot of coffee.

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There are two crucial elements that make these what they are: the caramelized sugar shards and well, the whole “Stumptown” business. The sugar is made by boiling a sugar syrup just shy of burnt, then pouring it out on a sheet pan, letting it cool, and breaking it into tiny pieces. Stumptown is a Brooklyn coffee roaster making big noise with excellent coffee. Ovenly uses both liquid coffee (Stumptown Cold Brew) and espresso grounds (Stumptown Hair Bender beans). I was over the moon to find both of these back home in California, so I was hoping to achieve as close a replica as possible to the original shorties at the bakery! If you cannot locate Stumptown coffee products where you live, you can at least order the beans online, or just use another high-quality coffee brand.

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A word about the espresso grounds: I ground the espresso beans on the finest setting of the coffee grinder, but there were a lot of coarse bits that resembled sawdust; at first, I thought there was something wrong with my grinder and almost threw out the grounds. Then I took out more beans and realized that the lighter-colored bits were remnants of the center-crease “silverskin”. I’m not well-versed on coffee bean anatomy, so I don’t profess to know much (anything, actually) about coffee roasting, but suffice it to say, there was nothing wrong with the grounds! I ground them down further with a mortar and pestle and most of the bits disappeared. Most importantly, there was zero grittiness in the shortbread from the espresso.

The shorties can be made as a single giant pan of shortbread, which you’ll cut upon removing from the oven, or they can be cut individually before baking. While the former method is much less work up front, I felt that baking the whole pan and cutting afterwards seemed like it would result in a crumbly mess. The latter method requires cutting and chilling the individual dough squares, but I opted to go this route for prettier squares with browned sides. However, despite being very firm, the dough still spread a bit, so the squares did not stay completely uniform– burnt sugar pieces melted out like marshmallows. (Ummm, not that this was a deterrent in any way, I assure you.) I may freeze them longer next time, or maybe I will try the other cutting technique… or maybe I just won’t worry about it because they’re so FREAKING DELICIOUS.

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Stumptown Shorties
Adapted from Ovenly by Agatha Kulaga & Erin Patinkin
Yields 20-24 squares

For the burnt sugar:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

For the shortbread:

  • Softened butter or nonstick cooking spray for greasing the pan
  • 1 ½ cups (24 tablespoons/12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 tablespoons cold-brew coffee, preferably Stumptown Cold Brew (or fresh strong espresso, cooled)
  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons very finely ground espresso
  • ½ cup burnt sugar bits
  • Turbinado sugar, for garnish

Make the burnt sugar:

Line a 9 x 13” rimmed sheet pan with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper.

Heat the sugar over a medium-high burner in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir the sugar constantly with a wooden spoon until it has completely melted and has turned a dark shade of amber. Despite the name… *do not burn the sugar*. As you stir, the sugar will probably get clumpy; break up the clumps with your spoon and keep stirring until everything has melted. (Feel free to stop for a second to admire your sugar crystalline art.) This should all take about 5 minutes.

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Carefully pour the liquid sugar onto the sheet pan and spread it out evenly with a rubber spatula. (If you have tons of tiny bubbles, it is perfectly fine. Most of them will go away on their own, and the rest will not adversely affect your final result.)

Let the caramelized sugar cool completely to room temperature; it will harden after about 30 minutes, and you’ll be able to pick up the whole thing as one piece. Transfer the hardened sugar to a cutting board. Using a knife, small hammer, or a very clean meat mallet, crack the sugar into tiny bits. These shards can be kept in an airtight container stored in a cool, dry place indefinitely.

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Make the shortbread dough:

Line a 9 x 13” rimmed sheet pan with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper, or butter it heavily.

Place the 1½ cups butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and attach the paddle. (You can also use a hand mixer.) Mix on low speed for 10 seconds, and then increase to medium-high speed and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes; it should be cold to the touch but not clumpy. Add the cold brew coffee with the mixer on low speed. Bump up the speed to medium-high and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

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Whisk the flour and ground espresso in a large bowl. In a separate smaller bowl, mix ¼ cup of the flour mixture with the burnt sugar bits.

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Add half of the flour mixture to the stand mixer bowl and mix on low for about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining flour; mix until just incorporated, another 30 seconds. Add the coated burnt sugar bits and mix on low speed just until all the flour streaks have disappeared. Do not overmix. The dough will be soft and nubby.

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Scrape the dough onto the prepared sheet pan and press it in as evenly as possible to the pan edges. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the entire dough surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough gently to smooth out the top and to make sure that the dough has an even thickness across the whole pan.

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There are two ways to bake the shortbread. To make individual squares:

Refrigerate the sheet pan for at least 4 hours, or even overnight– you’ll want a very firm dough.

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed half-sheet pan with parchment paper and remove the plastic wrap from the dough.

Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into even squares in the size of your choice. I cut mine into approximate 2” squares; cutting the cold dough will give you beautiful, straight edges. (If you want to be really meticulous, which I was not, you can bust out a ruler and measure squares of precisely the same size, but my baking-OCD would have had waaaaay too much fun with that.)

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Carefully transfer the squares to the parchment-lined pan; I had to do two separate batches to use up all the dough. Chill the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes. (Keep the unbaked dough in the fridge while the first batch is freezing/baking.)

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Top the squares with turbinado sugar and place the pan in the oven. Bake the shortbread for 18-20 minutes (turning the pan halfway through), or until the edges are lightly golden. Let the squares cool on the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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The second method for baking is as follows:

Immediately after rolling over the plastic wrap, remove it and sprinkle the entire surface of the dough with turbinado sugar. Put the pan directly in the oven (no chilling necessary) and bake for 18-20 minutes, turning halfway through, or until the dough appears puffy and the center is set. Let the shortbread cool completely in the pan before carefully cutting it into 2” squares.

Bite into buttery, espresso-y goodness. 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.

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