Maybe this is too personal, but I just have to ask . . . Are you into cocoa (aka cacao) nibs? Because I am. And I love 'em. What are they, exactly? They're fragments of shelled, winnowed, roasted cacao (pronounced kuh-KOW) beans, the precious beans that bring us chocolate. Okay, big deal, you say. So what makes them remarkable? Well, I'll tell you. Each tiny nib is its own special-delivery parcel of profound flavor. Bite down, and it's like a little grenade going off in your mouth--intensely bright and dark at the same time. Ka-boom!
The effect a modest sprinkling of nibs can have on an otherwise mundane recipe is startling. Stir a handful into cookie dough. Sprinkle them judiciously over waves of whipped-cream on a mocha cream pie. Swirl them into homemade ice cream before you put it into the freezer to ripen. Add them into that buttery almond brittle recipe you're so famous for. Do you see where I'm going with this? Limitless possibilities, fellow bakers!
They taste kind of like coffee, but not as bitter, with a complex and curious finish that evokes tropical fruit. Sometimes I can even picture a banana in there! No kidding. And, of course, they also taste like dark chocolate, but not overtly so. You'd think they'd be chocolate-chocolate-chocolate all the way through, but that's not always the case. They're a mysterious and delightful conundrum.
And as for texture? Nibs, while hard and crunchy, are apt to shatter between your teeth more readily than something like a roasted coffee bean or a toasted almond. If you're unfamiliar with them and a little gun shy, try this: Put a few nibs on your tongue--not too many--close your eyes, and concentrate. Pay attention when you bite into them. If the grenade analogy is too scary for you, think of it as a flavor-parade marching through your mouth. You can't ignore a parade, can you? Definitely not. Cocoa nibs are like that. Once they're in food, they won't be ignored.
Though they're scarce in regular markets, you can often find them in health/gourmet food stores, where they're sometimes sold in bulk and are not necessarily too pricey. Maybe you, too, should add them to your baking arsenal?
About this recipe . . .
Adapted from the luscious new cookbook, Milk & Cookies, by pastry chef Tina Casaceli of New York city's Milk & Cookies Bakery, these treats are easy to toss together and will more than satisfy your cocoa craving. I customized the book's "base chocolate dough" recipe by adding in a half cup of nibs, along with dark chocolate chips and semisweet chunks. I also increased the amount of salt, and used coarse kosher; the very subtle saltiness is a critical component of this cookie's character. And, as usual, I fiddled with the recipe's directions, reflecting exactly what I did.
I'd initially hoped for cookies that would be thicker and not quite so spread out, but their thin, chewy/crispy quality was actually rather appealing. (But the next time I make them, I think I might add in a few more tablespoons of flour and see if that helps reduce the spreading.) Even after a couple of days, the baked cookies didn't harden completely but remained chewy-crispy. Tuck one of these babies into a petite scoop of vanilla ice cream, and it makes a mighty satisfying dessert.
Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder (I used Penzey's brand. Really good.)
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
1/2 cup cocoa nibs
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli brand.)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (Actually, I used Nestle semisweet chunks; they're about twice the size of regular chips.)
In a medium size bowl, gently whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder, and cocoa nibs. Set aside.
In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter for about three minutes or just until light and creamy. Still on medium speed, gradually pour in the white and brown sugars; keep beating until the mixture again looks light and creamy.
In a small bowl, break up the egg yolks, and lightly mix the eggs together with the vanilla. Pour this into the mixer bowl in two parts, beating to incorporate the liquid. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition.
On low speed, slowly add in the flour mixture, and beat just to combine. Take the bowl off the mixer and briefly stir by hand, using a spatula or wooden spoon. Add in all of the chocolate chips, just to evenly combine.
Chill the dough for at least an hour if it's extremely soft.
Use a small scoop or tablespoon to portion the dough onto the parchment, and leave plenty of room between each cookie (a couple of inches) since they spread quite a bit. Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes. They are done when they seem slightly browned/dry around the edges but still slightly soft in the middle. Let them cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before removing them to a cooling rack.
The cookie dough can be successfully frozen for about a month, or kept in the fridge for about a week.
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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
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Visit the PBS site to reminisce about 2013's best food trends. They've assembled an entertaining look at what we foodies focused on--what we ate, cooked, read, watched, and blogged about--throughout the year. Click here!
Interesting article in the Los Angeles Timeson the resurgence in demand for the skills of professional pastry chefs. (It seems we still need them after all . . .but you and I have always known that, haven't we?)
The IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) announced winners of its 2013 IACP Food Writing Awards. Have a look at the list. (No surprise that the gorgeous Bouchon Bakery cookbook won for photography and styling; took about a dream of a book! It's gorgeous.)
Food journalist and cookbook reviewer T. Susan Chang, writing for Publisher's Weekly, shared her thoughts in the article "10 Things Every Cookbook Publisher Should Know." Chang clarifies, in a nutshell, what differentiates a great cookbook from an awful dud. I found myself nodding in agreement with every point she made.
An interesting variation on cherries jubilee . . .
. . . made with Grand Marnier, sweet black cherries, pomegranate juice, and homemade vanilla ice cream.
Dutch apple cake . . .
. . . it's divine!
What We Talk About . . .
. . . When We Talk About Banana Cake!
JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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