We are a coffee-obsessed nation, but when people think of coffee, most people will point to Seattle, New York, San Francisco, and even Portland, not the Midwest. Not many know that a huge chapter of the Third Wave coffee movement started here in Minnesota, which is what yielded the fair trade, specialty coffee obsession of the present day. Coffee in North America is maybe better than it ever has been, and coffee has had a long journey, although it’s true that coffee has always been a big part of the culture in the North. I think it probably is the case because the settlers who came from Sweden brought with them their passion for kaffe to the Midwest. Coffee first made its way to Sweden in 1685, and the first mention of coffee is found in documents from Gothenburg. The Scandinavian countries top the global list of coffee consumers to this day, drinking over 39 gallons per person in a year.
The coffee culture spread in Europe and reached the Americas. In the American West, even cowboys tried to make coffee using whole beans roasted over a campfire! In places like Minnesota and other parts of the Midwest, the early Swedish settlers brought their coffee-loving culture wherever they went, and Swedish egg coffee became ubiquitous at every church social. They also brought with them the tradition of fika (pronounced “FEE-ka”). There isn’t really an English word that is a direct translation of the concept of fika, and while this Swedish word basically means to drink coffee, it is a lot more than that. Fika is the tradition of making the time to take a break and slow down, drink a cup of coffee, or even tea, and pair the beverage with a baked good. It’s not just an afternoon snack, it’s a pause to appreciate slow living. Some typical fika snacks are cinnamon buns, ginger snaps, and rye bread. Fika can happen at a café, and it can also happen at home or in the park. It’s a wonderfully portable tradition and I like to think that the great array of exceptional coffee shops and roasting companies that you find in Minneapolis and St. Paul reflect this deep love of coffee and fika. Minneapolis is so coffee-obsessed and so progressive that actually the Third Wave coffee movement originated here, which largely formed fair trade coffee as we know it today. If you have heard of Peace Coffee or seen their turtle logo, those trade policies and import practices started here in Minnesota and they have totally transformed the industry. If you’re interested in sampling some of this Third Wave coffee, do visit Minneapolis, and you would not be disappointed if you went to Spyhouse, Five Watt, Wild Flyer, Dogwood Coffee, Northern Coffee Works, Café Ceres, or Wuollet in Uptown just to name a few. There are always local favorites like Dunn Brothers and Caribou Coffee as well, which offer lattes, macchiatos, and other popular drinks typical of the Second Wave movement.
Going back to the tradition of fika, I love it because it reminds me to find joy in the simplicity of good food, good ingredients, nothing processed, and a lovely hot beverage. For a lot of Northern Europeans, baking from scratch is very much the norm, and so to honor this tradition, and because we are still going through the pandemic, and many of us don’t want to eat out yet, I revived a coffee and chocolate flavored cookie recipe from Better Homes & Gardens so we can have fika at home. This cookie feels a bit European in its flavor: it’s rich, buttery, not too sweet, packed with mocha flavor, and is made in small serving sizes. The recipe is not complex, and I like to think it shines because of the simplicity, and because it’s such a satisfying snack. I think it is very evocative of the cookies you would find in Europe, and it would provide for a wonderful afternoon or mid-morning snack with your favorite cup of coffee or tea. Because they are small cookies, it’s easier not to over-indulge. They can go into a wooden box or tin and be given to a neighbor or friend as a gift as well! Life is for living and life is fueled by fika.
Espresso Cookie Squares
Prep time: 15 mins
Chill time: 7 hours
Cook time: 12 mins
Makes: about 4 dozen cookies (48-50)
- 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup butter
- ½ cup cane sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp espresso powder
- 1 tsp water
- 1 egg
- 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate pieces
- In a small saucepan, melt the 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool. Do not let harden or set.
- Stir together flour, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until softened. Add the cane sugar and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
- Mix the espresso powder into the water until fully dissolved.
- Add the espresso mixture, melted chocolate, and egg to the butter and sugar mixture and beat on medium-low speed until well combined, about 3 or 4 minutes.
- Add flour mixture and beat until well-mixed, another 3 or 4 minutes.
- Cover the dough and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. The dough should be easy to handle once chilled.
- Remove from the refrigerator and shape into two rolls about 7 inches long. Wrap with plastic wrap or parchment and chill another 6 hours, or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Remove the rolls from the refrigerator, roll out to ¼ inch thickness, and cut into squares 2 inches on each side. Place the squares on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 10-11 minutes. The edges should be firm and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool.
- In a small saucepan, melt the 1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate, stirring occasionally. Dip one half of each cookie into the chocolate mixture. Place on waxed paper to cool until the chocolate is set.