Café Au Martha!- Mocha Shortbread Wedges! -250 eggs, 190 1/4 cups of sugar, 194 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 240 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 25 recipes to go!

November 12, 2011

Martha's Mocha Shortbread Wedges

André's Mocha Shortbread Wedges

“It didn’t look like shortbread, but I loved the shape (and size of the cookie!). It’s definitely a variation from the traditional shortbread that I LOVE.  But what isn’t better with the addition of chocolate.  It had a bitterness at first bite, then the sweetness and meltiness of true shortbread.  It’s a winner!”

This is the last review I’ll be posting from the elusive Baroness Von Shortbread. This is, after all, the last shortbread recipe in Martha’s book still needing to be tackled. I’m closing in towards the end of this endeavor and what an endeavor it’s been. But, first things, first. I need to write a bit about Martha’s Mocha Shortbread Wedges.

Traditional shortbread is an eggless and sandy cookie made from butter, sugar and flour. Martha’s Mocha Shortbread Wedges are really no different except for the addition of espresso powder and Dutch processed cocoa powder. The ingredients are combined into a dough and spread along the bottom of a round baking pan. The dough is then baked at a low temperature until the cookie just begins to brown. In the case of a dark chocolate shortbread, it’s difficult to determine if the cookie is browned. I kept an eye on the cookie and when the top appeared to wrinkle up a bit like brownies tend to do while baking, I figured they were done. Once removed from the oven the pan is placed on a wire rack to cool for five minutes or so. While it is still warm, the cookie is carefully removed from the pan and cut into twelve wedges with a serrated bread knife. The trick is to cut the cookie while it is still warm and a bit pliable. Shortbread doesn’t really crisp up into it’s crumbly state until it’s cooled completely and allowed the moisture from the butter content to evaporate. Once this happens, it’s virtually impossible to cut without breaking the cookie into unattractive pieces.

I happen to agree with the Baroness’ assessment of these cookie. The bitterness of the espresso powder and cocoa hits the palate first but it is soon followed by the warm, melty sweetness one would expect from a shortbread. My partner, Dan did not care for these. In his opinion, they looked a bit like brownies but don’t have the warm gooey texture brownies promise. Eating a Mocha Shortbread Wedge was like biting into a bagel, thinking it was a donut. The disappointment was a turn-off.

Still, I liked them and so did the Baroness, and the Baroness ain’t easy to please.

Many posts ago I promised to expand a bit on a story from a past gig I had in Saint Louis, Missouri. It was 1990 and I was at the School for Über Serious Actors and struggling to make ends meet. I worked on the weekends at a dinner theatre of sorts called The Royal Dumpe and then at 11:00 after the evening show, I’d drive over the Mississippi River to East Saint Louis, Illinois to play piano in the Koala Room nestled in the basement of a morally dubious gay establishment named, Faces. 

The club was a converted department store in a run-down ghetto. The bar offered three-stories of hedonism. The main floor was a marble tiled dance floor. Above it was an over-the-top drag theatre with such notable performers as Charity Case, Anita Douche, and Bebe Gunn.  In the basement was an area called the Men’s Locker Room. Women were not allowed in the basement, and any woman who would want to enter there would have had to have been out of her mind. The Locker Room was a seedy and dark bar with several television monitors scattered about playing hardcore pornography. To one side of the Locker Room was a dark room where gentlemen could disappear and do ungentlemanly things to one another anonymously in the dark. On the other side of the Locker Room was the Koala Room, named so for being placed “Down Under.” It was in this room I’d play piano from 11:30 P.M. till 5:00 A.M. flanked by two screens of porn blasting such favorite titles as The Sexorcist and The African Queen (not the one with Bogart and Hepburn.)

I made a lot of money doing this. Most gentlemen who hadn’t found their Mr. Right, or at least their Mr. Right Now by 2:00 A.M. were going to drown their sorrows and sing show tunes until the wee hours of the morning. I don’t think anyone’s really lived until they’ve sung The Man that Got Away with twenty other fifty-year-old men.

Things were going well between me and the management of Faces. The bar was owned by a group of gentlemen who were rumored to be part of a gay mafia, whatever that is. All I know is that on Thursdays I’d go to a small room in the back of the bar where a guy wearing a loud-print, blouse-like shirt with gold chains hanging down to his scrotum over a thick mat of chest hair would be waiting behind a fold-out table covered in stacks of cash. He’d check my name off a list, take a hit or two off of the joint sitting neatly in an ashtray next to a dusty mirror, a straw and an empty longneck. He’d then reach over and pull out a stack of cash, mostly singles, fives and tens. He’d throw the stack at me and say, “There ‘ya go! Now Getouttahere!”

It was on one of these Thursday afternoons when I was given a new challenge by Señor Pothead from across the money table. He checked my name off the list and paused. “You’re the piano guy, right?” he asked. I nodded. “I caught your act last weekend. It was good but, ya’know, you’d make a lot more money if ya’ wore a dress.” Hmmmm, I thought. It hadn’t occurred to me to step into the world of drag. The pothead went on, “Listen, my cousin, Vince is upstairs. Go talk with him and see if he’ll help you find a dress.”

I headed up the stairs and was greeted by a tiny slip of a blonde boy futzing with several wigs. I introduced myself and told him that his cousin downstairs sent me to get dragged-up. Vince just giggled at the thought of being called ‘cousin.’ “Kissing Cousin is more like it!” he roared. I didn’t want to know what he meant by that and so I didn’t ask. Vince then told me how important it was for me to develop a character, a persona for my drag self. Once I did that, he’d know what to pick out.

I was currently working on a play at school called Charlotte Sweet. It was a musical melodrama about a group of singers procured from mental institutions into a Victorian performing act called The Circus of Voices. Each performer’s psychosis was reflected in the way they sung. For instance there’s Cecily whose mother abused her and washed her mouth out with soap so often that she developed an intensely fast vibrato. There was Skitzy who would sing duets with her other personalities.

I thought this was a fun idea. What happens to a performer who snaps one day? At that moment I created my drag persona, Latrina Bidet, an aged and struggling actress who after one too many gigs in Dinner Theatres across the nation snapped and ended up in the gutter. The only job she’s fit to do anymore is play piano in the basement of a sleazy bar in East Saint Louis where she pops nostalgically in and out of past roles she’s performed.

As Latrina I made a pretty penny. She was just the edge I needed to go from merely performing to being a star performer. I learned a lot about how to play off an audience, a violently drunk and rowdy audience for that matter. Pretty soon people were coming to see Latrina. For the first time, people stopped looking at the porno screens in the room, enough so that management removed them to make space in the room that was quickly filling to capacity.

I began to bring in props and costume pieces, a nun’s habit for my turn at The Sound of Music, a squirt gun for West Side Story, a top hat for Sweet Charity. The crowd loved it. Sure it was base and tasteless and ridiculously sophomoric, but it was fun and silly and I was making good money.

It was also short-lived. I left Saint Louis less than a year later to work as an improv comedian at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida where the jokes were clean and the paycheck was steady.

I still think of those months as Latrina fondly. There’s very little of her left in me. As I’ve grown older I’ve allowed myself to become a bit more reserved, more inhibited. Still, it’s nice to know that she’s in me somewhere, lurking in my soul-gutter, waiting to take stage with her tribute to Cole Porter-potty.


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