Monday, May 30, 2011

Chocolate Cocoa Nib Cookies . . . (Cocoa Nibs: A Startling and Delightful Flavor Conundrum!)

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.

Chocolate Cocoa-Nib Cookies . . . with Chocolate Chips

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

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.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)


Nisrine Merzouki said...

They look absolutely delightful. These and a glass of milk is all I need right now!

june in ireland who loves to bake said...

Never heard of cocoa nibs till now, but I'm already addicted without eve having tried them, thanks to this mouth-watering blog post!

I actually was 'caught' swooning as I read your beautifully descriptive 'sprinkle them judiciously over waves of whipped cream,' and 'think of a flavor parade marching through your mouth,' by my hubby, LOL.

I can only imagine how gorgeous these little beauties are...for now! Gotta get me some cocoa nibs straight away and bake up a big gorgeous, delicious batch of chocolate cocoa-nib cookies!

Thanks for sharing this one, Jane. I've read it four times over in the last 15 minutes, and I'm grinning and smiling from ear to ear just looking at the images and re-reading with great delight how delicious these cookies must taste (and will taste when I bake some, too). Where to find these, though...that's the question. I will take your suggestion in to my local health food shop, or possibly the not-very-local-but-accessible gourmet foodie shop, and see if I can get them there.

I also want that cookbook! I love the title. That makes me smile, too. Thanks for making the start of my week so happy and cheery!

Anonymous said...

New favorite cookie prospect. Love the look of this!!

SweetSavoryPlanet said...

I like "flavor parade" analogy. I love cocoa nibs and I have seen them in Trader Joes. They are a nice find when you can find them. Thanks for reminding me, I am out and need to get some more!

Jane said...

Thanks, Nisrine. Yes, an ice cold glass of milk is definitely called for with these babies!
:) Warmly,

Hi June,
Sounds like you really need some nibs, lady! Let me know if you can't find them anywhere in Ireland and I can mail you some. After all, they don't weigh very much! ;)
Thanks so much,

Hi WarmVanillaSugar,
Isn't it fun to have a new prospect to add to your growing list of cookies to try? Mine seems to be never ending! Ha! ;)
Keep on baking,
Jane :)

Jane said...

Hi SweetSavory--
You know that's one place I have never remembered to check for them--Trader Joe's! But it would be perfectly natural for them to carry nibs. I'll have to check there as well and compare prices to the place I usually buy them. Thanks for stopping by!
:) Jane

Jennifurla said...

Now I must find these, never tried them or didn't know I had.

Beth said...

I haven't tried cocoa nibs, but you make a great case for them! They sound amazing.

Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

I've never heard of cocoa nibs but they sound really good. What a fantastic cookie recipe you've used as well...a mix of many chocolate chips!

raquel.erecipe said...

Raw cacao is a "super food" that can be beneficial health-wise.

michelangelo in the kitchen said...

Wow Jane, this is a surprise ingredient for cookies! I have to try these cocoa nibs pronto! Your cookies look absolutely chocolaty and delicious! I want to taste this complexity of chocolate flavor now! Thanks for this great recipe! Cheers!!!

The Vanilla Bean Baker said...

I've never had coco-nibs but I love how they made such a chewy, thin and moist cookie.

Janet Rudolph said...

These sound fabulous. Since you asked, I love cocoa nibs, and I use them in baking...and salads. Love the crunch. I really like your adaptations to the original recipe. I'll definitely try the kosher salt..and the cocoa nibs.. Chocolate so many ways. Fabulous.

Hannah said...

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kitchen flavours said...

Your cookies look delightful and addictive!! I have been looking around for cocoa nibs ever since I've seen a recipe in Heavenly Cakes, but have not seen it sold anywhere! From what you've described it, my search is definitely not over!
Have a nice weekend!

Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] said...

Wow Jane, now you're making me want cocoa nibs! I've never tried them :( They aren't even available here! The cookies look goreous, I'd be happy with some of those too!

~~louise~~ said...

Now that is a very personal question, Jane. I'm surprised as to your boldness, lol...I never met a nib in my life and quite honestly, I thought they were a fancy word for morsels or chocolate chips as in cookies.

Thanks for introducing me to them. I do think I've seen them in Wegman's. Now, if I can just bring myself to try them. I do adore coffee beans so perhaps...

Thanks for sharing, Jane. Nibs or no nibs your cookies look like the perfect match next to my idle glass of milk.

Canterbury Cakes said...

These sound fantastic!

Vanessa said...

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