Espresso Mole Shortbread


My holiday baking, when I do it, always contains at least two variants of shortbread.  One will always be the crowd pleasing shortbread cookie, like a cranberry lemon or a chocolate, and the other usually has a bit more Tina-ness to it.  This year I decided to take inspiration from one of my favorite flavor combinations, a classic Mexican mole, and serve it as a sweet rather than a savory.  

These cookies are a surprise and will likely be the most grown-up addition to my cookie plate.  They don’t beg for a tall glass of milk, they want a rich cup of bitter black coffee, or a peppery and dry glass of red…you can guess which one I prefer.  With your first bite you taste chocolate, then you get the headiness of cinnamon and spice, the bitterness of espresso, and finally a breath of heat blows in at the very end.  They’re not overly sweet, but they are decadently sophisticated and rich, asking quietly for you to take a second bite, and then a third.

I can count on two hands the people that I will be serving these cookies to this Christmas who will be as excited about them as I am.  They’re all from the ilk that would rather have a steaming cup of black coffee than a mug of saccharine hot chocolate, and if they DO take the hot chocolate route they like it spiked with chili or bourbon.  However, I also know that those who like it will like it alot.  If you’re a person who’s palette likes to play it a bit closer to the chest, or if you plan on serving this to the kidlets (because evidently I’m the type of person who endorses espresso consumption by wee tots?) you may want to omit the cayenne and increase the sugar….which also means increasing the butter and flour.  But don’t worry, just remember the golden combination of shortbread:  1 part sugar to 2 parts butter and 4 parts flour.

Espresso Mole Shortbread

Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies

  • 1.5 cups + 1 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 2 tbsp very hot water
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 cups sifted all purpose flour *
  • 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 6 oz semisweet dark chocolate

* We all know that I just lied about that, and will only sift my flour if I’m under intense public scrutiny and have no other alternative.


Cream together the 1.5 cups of butter with the confectioners sugar and salt.  You can do this easily in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, but I’ve been putting my stand mixer into overdrive lately.  Beat them together  until they’re nice and fluffy with no lumps or clumps remaining.


Measure the powdered instant espresso into a small bowl and pour the hot water overtop.  Stir this until it’s nice and syrupy.


Add the espresso and vanilla to the creamed sugar and butter and mix it until combined.  


Follow that with the spices and give it another good mix.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl as you go!  


Add the flour and continue mixing until the dough looks uniform.  Scrape the bottom of the sides one more time with a spatula, urging it into a bit of a ball.


Turn the dough onto a generously large piece (or two) of plastic wrap and make sure that it has a nice tight seal.  Tuck the cookie dough into your fridge to chillax for at least two hours or overnight.


When the cookie dough is released from it’s winterly jail, you’ll notice something important:  it’s SOLID.  I mean, harder than The Rock’s pecs at an extreme flirting competition – and that’s pretty darn firm, if you ask my active imagination.  Let it rest until it starts to come up to room temperature, and I promise you that it will soften enough that it’s workable.  As soon as it’s just soft enough that you can cut it fairly easily, do so.  Turn that sucker into a 6 x 6 checkerboard, and preheat the oven to 325F.

If you’re like me, your dough is NOT in a perfect square…or even a perfect oval.  It’s more like that cousin with the lazy eye and slight hunchback.  This means that when you cut the checkerboard the pieces in the center will be much larger than those on the edges.  Find one of the average sized pieces from the second row in and tear chunks off the larger ones to add to the smaller pieces until they’re all about the same size.

Roll each piece into an oval egg shape, and then gently press a wooden skewer down the center to give them that distinctive coffee bean shape.  Lay the molded cookies on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.


Aren’t they just charming all lined up like that?  Reminiscent of the military, true, but in buttery soon-to-be-baked form.


Bake the cookies for 30 – 35 minutes in the center of your oven, rotating the racks halfway through.  The cookies will be done when they’re slightly firm to the touch and the bottoms are just starting to get golden.  Let the cookies cool completely before moving on to the chocolate coating.

To make the chocolate coating, put the 5oz of semi-sweet chocolate into a glass bowl and set it over top of a pot with 1 – 2 inches of water inside.  Make sure that there is at least an inch of empty space between the water and the bottom of your bowl.  Set that over medium heat and let the chocolate slowly melt.


Stir the chocolate occasionally as it melts, and when it is almost all melted add in the reserved 1 tbsp of butter and stir until it’s melted and combined.


Using a pastry brush (or whatever you like that will achieve the same ends) brush the top and sides of each cookie with chocolate, and lay them back onto parchment or wax paper as each one is completed.


And there you have it.  These take chocolate coated espresso beans to a whole new level of goodness.


And don’t they make elegant tuxedo-like buttons on a white platter?


Except that I’m too greedy to spread them out, I’m more the fan of a deliciously piled platter.


I think I’m going to send some of these in a care package to my brother out West.  I know that he’ll dig the the spicy-sweet Mexican mole taste as much as I do.

Happy Holiday Baking!!!


  • Jan

    These are just the cutest, and since generally the cuter things are, the more delicious they are (see: lamb), you’ve persuaded me to go out and buy instant espresso powder just for this (we’re a non-coffee household).

    • Mike

      Jan, you’ve inspired me to do an “eating cute things” theme for this winter. It would be perfect for Valentine’s Day:

      * Quail
      * Lamb
      * Veal
      * Rabbit
      * Koala?

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    This sounds like genius shortbread to me. Count in me: I’ll join the shorter line.

  • michelle @ TNS

    oh my god, these are the cutest fucking things i’ve ever seen.

    i thank you for publicly copping for not sifting your flour…now i don’t feel so cold and alone.

  • kristie

    I sense some confusion. Some people are commenting in a way that makes me think that THEY think you meant mole as in “underground rodent” and not “chocolate-rich mexican savory sauce.” Which brings me to my point. Putting a little cinnamon stick “tail” on each, and some crazy ass pine nut “claws” and maybe painting a little pink peppercorn nose…

    Then again, I have a lot of free time.

  • Heather

    Those *are*, as Michelle would say, the cutest fucking things I’ve ever seen. I could eat a whole plate of them for breakfast.

  • Ivy

    These are lovely as well. I wish I could make all these lovely recipes.

  • Jan

    Mike – while actual koala meat is probably difficult to come by, there is such thing as koala cookies (chocolate-filled and delicious) brought to us by my peeps the asians, so that’s dessert. Other options include baby venison (gruesome to think of Bambi so, but I bet it’s delicious), fugu (puffer fish are adorable) and puffin. Adorable sides: baby potatoes and asparagus wrapped in bacon. As far as I’m concerned, “wrapped in bacon” is the same as “cute as a button”.

    Tina – I made these last night! It went quite well, though in the tradition of my having all the right ingredients except one very important one (ex. the time Jan made Pulla) I had no cayenne so used chili powder. Regardless, they are delicious. Question, though: how on earth did you manage to do the chocolate bit? I ended up splitting the cookies into two batches, then doing half of each cookie, sticking them in the fridge to encourage setting, doing the other batch, rotating, chocolated the naked halves of the cookies, and I still made a horrendous (delicious) mess. It got done (and they are so very fetching), but lord, the clean up.

    • Mike

      Jan: Puffin? Wow. That would be like killing and eating cuteness itself.

      And also because I am a loving and obedient life partner I will offer NO COMMENT on anything relating to “clean up.”

  • Nanco

    I actually bothered sifting my flour when I made Linzer cookies last week, and I blame that for their having turned out a bit dry…
    So you don’t put corn starch in your shortbread? I’m totally making these, cause my shortbread (with corn starch) always seem to be missing something, and I’ve realized it must be spice and chocolate.
    Mike: I didn’t know quail were considered cute, just stupid. What about seal? (Hope McCartney isn’t reading this.)

  • _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    Genius! Not only do the flavors sound great, but that shape! Genius! (Oh wait, I already said that.)

  • noble pig

    Very nice, love the shape, very elegant Tina!

  • Tina

    JS & Ivy – thank you! But you know that I’d beat people off for a place at *your* holiday dessert table, right? Because…because I would.

    Michelle & Heather – Aw, you guys warm my fucking heart.

    Kristie – I kind of have this thing for eating objects that are shaped like rodents. I don’t know why. I love my sister-in-law’s Cheese Mouse though (I make a cheese beaver…..), any kind of a confectionary mouse, and pretty much anything which is rodent shaped. So….so don’t tempt me. People are already asking questions. But yes, thank you for clarifying: This is Mexican Mole (spice blend), not Mexican Mouse.

    Jan – I LOVE koala cookies! Oh, and koala bread. No, wait, that’s panda bread. Meh. And hey, you could wrap ANYTHING in bacon and I would love it like gravy. You see, this is why I like you. By the way, have I mentioned that I get absolutely TICKLED with delight when you tell me that you’ve made one of these recipes? Because seriously, I do. Then I run shrieking down the stairs yelling, “MIKE!! MIIIIIIIIIIKKKKKEEEE!!! SOMEBODY LIKED MY COOKIES AND THEN THEY MADE THEM AND THEN THEY STILL LIKED THEM AND THIS IS JUST SO AWESOME IT’S THE MOST AWESOMEST THING EVEEEERRRRRRRR!!!!!” No jokes. That poor man suffers through a lot of shrieking.

    In terms of your question about the cookies, you’re a bit more ambitious than I was!!! I didn’t fully enrobe the cookies. When I said “brush the top and sides” I meant it….I left the bases to their cookieness because it makes them easier to stack/pack, AND a lot less work!! And yes, chocolate is not a tidy business…..I usually wander away until Mike comes into the kitchen, gets disgusted with the mess, and washes all my dishes before I return.

    Nanco – sifting the flour shouldn’t have made your Linzers dry. Maybe they were overbaked or your house was drier than the test kitchen so there ended up being too much flour?? Oh, and I *DO* sometimes put cornstarch in my shortbread, but it depends on what kind I’m making. If you stick around to read the Lemon and Lavender cookies that I’ll be posting in a day or two, you’ll see an appearance.

    Also: A baby seal walked into a bar. He asked for a rye and coke. The bartender peered at him, and hoping to upsell he said, “Any particular type of rye?” The seal sighed in the most lugubrious possible way, and said, “Anything EXCEPT for Canadian Club.”


    TS & Noble Pig – you guys are far too kind! Oh, but I like it and you don’t need to stop. But really, I don’t deserve that kind of praise for making cookies. They’re…sadly, they’re just cookies. BUT YOU DON’T NEED TO STOP.

  • Stephen

    Best. Shortbread. Ever.

  • Tina

    Stephen – now that you know the recipe, you can officially go market these at the thousands of local coffee shops on your doorstep!

  • MariannaF

    these are such awesome shortbreads!! even if Xmas is over, I will still have to make these to
    enjoy w a cup of coffee!!

  • jill

    These are beautiful!

    (I always lie about sifting flour too)

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  • Cristina

    Hi Tina,

    These look awesome! I’m thinking of making them a week in advance of when my boyfriend is coming to visit. Is that too far in advance? Or can I freeze them? (Sorry if that’s a weird question, I’m a total novice at baking!)

    • Tina

      Cristina – thank you so much for stopping by our site!! You can absolutely make these in advance and freeze them. That’s actually how I manage my cookie stock around the holidays, by making massive batches and then freezing them in sealed airtight containers. If your feller won’t be arriving for a week then freezing them is probably the right option, because their texture won’t really improve by being left on the counter for seven days.

      Good luck, and if I can help you out with any questions along the way just let me know!

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  • Alison

    I’m just copying out this recipe – could I ask a quick and probably daft question? I have an espresso machine (preen!), so I don’t buy powdered espresso. Could I use the same quantity of espresso from the machine instead of espresso powder + water? I can’t see why not, but better safe than sorry … Thanks in advance.

    • Mike

      The answer is yes, but as you can imagine the freshly-ground stuff will have a bigger punch on the flavor, and it’s important that the grind is as fine as you can get it.

      But for all that, it’ll be worth the rewards that fancy-pants-espresso-machine-made grains will bring!

  • Alison

    Thanks, Mike! I think I’ll try it just making a shot of coffee with the Official Fancy-Pants Machine, and will report back. (But not until the rugelach are all gone. Too much cake in the house is A Bad Thing.)

    • Tina

      My New Years Resolution it totally going to be carving out time to respond to more comments, and I think I’ll start with yours! I agree with my honey that freshly ground has more punch and will be equally – or more – delicious. My one watch out to you would be with liquids. The espresso powder is mixed with water until it is thick and syrupy, and has roughly 1/4 (or less) the volume of water that you’d use in an espresso shot. When you’re brewing, scale back the water by at least half, if possible.

      Happy baking!!!

  • Alison

    Oh, good point – glad I haven’t made these yet. Will bear this in mind and report back. Thanks, Tina!

  • Jess

    This looks amazing! I went to the store to buy instant espresso powder but couldn’t find it. Do you think instant coffee powder would be okay to use?

    • Tina

      Hi Jess,
      Thank you so much for your comment!! Instant coffee powder is fine, but you may want to increase the amount by 1/3….don’t increase the water though or your dough will be too soft. The coffee granules aren’t going to like that, so make sure that the water is nice and hot, stir/whisk it well and let it sit for a minute (and whisk again) to get it smooth before adding.

      I hope you enjoy these!!

  • Alison

    Okay, I’ve finally got round to making these cookies. In the end I used fine-ground pure coffee (filter-ground) instead of instant espresso powder. The recipe was a dream to follow, and I just love the results. The spiciness and the coffee flavour complement each other so well; not sweet, but deeply fulfilling. (So why did I make only half a batch???) My husband doesn’t share my passion for dark chocolate, so he wants a batch without the chocolate coating; and the coffee/spice combination is so good that I think I can live with that. Utterly fabulous and very grown-up. Thank you, Tina!

    • Tina

      Alison – thank you so much for your comment. I’m just so pleased that you and your husband liked these cookies as much as we do! So appreciative that you wrote to let us know…thank you 🙂 And hey, if he doesn’t like chocolate you’re being a very kind and generous partner to make a batch specially for him without it. I hope you like them as much as the first batch!!!

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