Saturday, April 30, 2011

1001 Nights Cookies

There have been some serious technical difficulties around the house lately. The storm that flattened parts of Alabama came right through the Tennessee Valley, snapping trees and knocking out our electricity, which has not been restored up to this point. I like to have photos of the recipes I post, but this time I won't bother. These are fantastic cookies, and should you decide to make them, photo or no photo, you will not be disappointed.

I used to really have a thing for cacao nibs. I don’t remember when I first ate them, but I think it was at the recommendation of my co-farm intern/roommate Bremen. He was a slightly odd bird, wearing sarongs around the house, adamant that drinking water from a glass jar was healthier than metal or plastic, trying to get his hands on deer velvet, which was supposed to cure cancer and anything else you might find yourself afflicted with. But he was good people nonetheless.

I mostly used nibs in my granola, and why I haven’t done that lately is a mystery even to me, because they were truly marvelously good. Cacao nibs (also called cocoa nibs) are essentially crushed toasted cocoa beans. They taste like chocolate but are bitter and not sweet at all. I have eaten them on their own as part of a snack, but usually they end up in other things. At the bakery, we made a cacao nib snickerdoodle that was rolled in cinnamon sugar. Dynamite. As a side note, you can also grind up nibs and treat them like coffee grounds. You get a coffee-like, slightly bitter beverage that tastes great with heavy cream and sugar.

The recipe below is based on one in the Grand Central Baking Book. Icebox cookies are a fine thing. There’s a little lapse between when you make the dough and when you can bake the cookies—at least 2 hours. You want the dough to get really cold and firm, which makes slicing it easier. But the real magic of this waiting game is that letting the dough sit gives the flavors time to meld. Recently it has come to be known that chilling cookie dough, particularly the greatly-disputed chocolate chip cookie, for up to two or three days gives you superior cookies. Apparently, resting cookie dough works the same magic as resting bread dough—the flour particles have plenty of time to absorb the liquid in the dough, and the whole mass of dough can relax. For bread-making this makes the dough a lot easier to work with. For cookies, you end up with a better-textured end result. If you’re really jonesing for cookies, this knowledge does you no good because time is of the essence, but if you can wait, you will be rewarded with extra delicious cookies.

I don’t like to make recipes exactly as they’re printed, but here the question was how to improve upon such a sublime cookie? I mean, changing something just for the sake of changing it is silly. This cookie is dark and sweet and bitter, thanks to the nibs and dark cocoa powder, but it was missing something: a floral element. I like adding aromatic things to baked goods. Sometimes, it’s just a little extract. Other times, it’s a liqueur or herbs or citrus zest. These “floral” elements (that’s how I think of them) add the je ne sais quoi that I look for in my baked goods. My inspiration here was a birthday cake one of my best friends made for me—a chocolate rosewater cake.

A full tablespoon of rosewater (you can find it at any natural foods store, probably in the body care section) in this recipe adds a very faint whisper of flower to this cookie. Not enough to knock you down with English rose garden tea time overdose, but enough to let you know that something else, something classy and mysterious, is going on.

1001 Nights Cookies

Whisk together in a small bowl:

1 1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In a large bowl, beat until light and fluffy:

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

Add and beat to combine:

1 tablespoon rosewater

Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in:

1/3 cup cacao nibs

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a log that is two inches in diameter and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease or line two baking sheets with parchment. Slice the logs of dough into 1/4-inch thick rounds, and place the cookies at least 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until firm to the touch, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

1 comment:

tracingterroir said...

I recently went to the Theo Chocolate factory in Seattle for a tour and got to see the behind-the-wrapper process, tasting cacao nibs among the other chocolate bar samples. I've loved cacao nibs for a long time, especially in brownies and gooey things, because I love a good crunch.
To me, on their own, they taste a bit like bananas.
I'm glad to hear that you put them in your granola too!