Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cinnamon-Chocolate Bat Cookies

There are blue sugar crystals on that there bat.

Chocolate Bats: The Legend. The tale begins about eighteen years ago, when Son One was in Montessori, and I was in the mood to bake cookies for Hallowe'en. I played around with one of Martha Stewart's recipes, adding cinnamon to the mix at the behest of the lad, and cut them into bats: WELL, thought I, let me put on some strong coffee right this minute.

The following morning, I packed a couple of bats in the royal lunchbox, and then, on second thought, wrapped a half-dozen more and put them in too: If there are other kids at the table, voilà--everyone's happy.


At twelve-thirty, I received a call from the teacher: "Er...Mrs. Tornello,  I'm calling about those chocolate bat cookies."

Uh-oh.  Did the sharing go okay, I wondered. (We really were working on that stuff.)

"Your son came over to the teacher's table and gave each of us one of your chocolate bat cookies--such a lovely, thoughtful boy--and they were so good. Could you...possibly...would you mind making a big batch for the whole class?" (Note: she meant the whole school, since they all ate lunch together.)

I made a triple batch of the cookies that night and sent them in. They became a regular thing around here, too, and not just at Hallowe'en.  I still have the kitschy little black plastic bat cookie cutter, used to make the cookie in the photo; the boys--there are three of them now--are still capable of reducing the chocolate bats by half within an hour of baking. I made them last night, in fact. I think there might be one or two left. Sigh.

This unfrosted, mostly unadorned cookie is texturally akin to slightly-cakey sugar-cookie, that is, it combines the best qualities of a wafer, a sugar cookie, and a brownie.  It's deeply chocolatey but not overly sweet, especially if you go light on the sugar-sprinkling. At Hallowe'en, use orange sugar to make them sparkle and jump off the plate (as if they needed help).

Deborah's Chocolate Bats

3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/4 cups best quality unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 generous teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 large eggs, lightly whisked
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. In another bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy; add the eggs and vanilla.

Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the flour mixture into the egg-butter-sugar mixture; combine thoroughly but don't over-mix. Divide the dough into two balls, wrap each in plastic, and flatten slightly so you've got two very thick chocolate frisbee-like shapes. Put in the fridge for an hour or so.

Heat your oven to 350º F (my oven can get a bit too hot, so I always bump this down to about 325º F and wait a bit longer--it's preferable to having them burn on the underside).

Cover your cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Using a rolling pin and a clean, lightly floured surface, roll the dough out carefully until it's about 1/8" thick--mine are often a tiny bit thicker, as the humidity this time of year makes it nearly impossible to work with very thin dough of any sort. Flouring both your rolling pin and hands will help keep the dough from sticking too much. (So will working with cooled dough, in a nice cool kitchen--lucky you--if you possibly can.)

With a bat-shaped cookie-cutter--or one that's any favorite shape, of course--cut out your cookies. A wafer-thin metal spatula will be useful in transferring them onto the cookie sheet. As with many things containing flour, the less you manhandle this dough, the more tender and melt-in-your-mouth the final result will be, so be gentle and take your time. You can put the bats fairly close together, as they don't tend to swell and spread the way some cookies do. Sprinkle them with a little sugar, either plain granulated, raw, or colorful.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. They're supposed to be juuust this side of crisp and not darkened at all.

I have to admit it: chocolate bats, when oven-warm, are quite gorgeous--more so when eaten while standing at the stove with a little cup of espresso in one hand, enjoying the peace that you know is as temporary as it gets: that deep chocolate-cinnamon aroma might just as well be a fifty-foot-wide bat signal.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Unwarranted email-snooping ruled unconstitutional in 2010

I was poking around in some 4th Amendment case law online and came across a relatively recent (2010) ruling (.pdf) by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. It's a solidly pro-civil liberties ruling that seems tailor-made for the files of whoever wants to challenge the legality of the NSA's unwarranted domestic surveillance programs.

The case was United States. v. Warshak et. al., and it involved the prosecution of Steven and Harriet Warshak, owners of Enzyte (a herb-based "male enhancement" supplement). The court upheld Warshak's conviction, more-or-less, because of the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule (whereby law enforcement is recognized to have been doing its job and following the law as it existed then).

(I will note here that I vehemently disagree with the so-called "good faith exception".)

However--and this is encouraging--the court ruled as unconstitutional the very statutes that enabled the prosecution's secret evidence-gathering.

Circuit Judge Keith, concurring (emphasis mine) (the last couple of lines are my favorites):

     Following NuVox’s policy, the provider would have destroyed Warshak’s old emails but for the government’s request that they maintain all current and prospective emails for almost a year without Warshak’s knowledge. In practice, the government used the statute as a means to monitor Warshak after the investigation started without his knowledge and without a warrant. Such a practice is no more than back-door wiretapping. I doubt that such actions, if contested directly in court, would withstand the muster of the Fourth Amendment. Email, much like telephone, provides individuals with a means to communicate in private. See Warshak v. United States , 490 F.3d 455, 469-70 (6th Cir. 2007), vacated , 532 F.3d 521 (6th Cir. 2008) (en banc). The government cannot use email collection as a means to monitor citizens without a warrant anymore than they can tap a telephone line to monitor citizens without a warrant. The purpose of § 2703, along with the Stored Communications Act as a whole, is to maintain the boundaries between a citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy and crime prevention in light of quickly advancing technology. S. Rep. 99-541, at 4. To interpret § 2703(f) as having both a retroactive and prospective effect would be contrary to the purpose of the statute as a whole.

     While it was not the issue in today’s decision, a policy whereby the government requests emails prospectively without a warrant deeply concerns me. I am furthermore troubled by the majority’s willingness to disregard the current reading of § 2703(f) without concern for future analysis of this statute.


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