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March 22, 2007

Sugar High Friday #29: Nibby Cookies


Emily of the compulsively readable Chocolate in Context came up with a creative challenge for this month's Sugar High Friday: Chocolate in the Raw, a nice bookend to January's Chocolate by Brand.

While I would have dearly loved to experiment with a fresh, raw, cacao pod, there were unfortunately no trips to cacao plantations scheduled for me at this time. I decided to settle for using one of my happiest discoveries when I became more serious about baking and moved on from Nestle chocolate chips and Hershey's cocoa powder: the cacao nib.

Nibs have been described by both John Scharffenberger and Alice Medrich as "the essence of chocolate", and they literally quite are: the little fragments of cacao beans that have been roasted and winnowed to removed their outer shells. Not yet ground into chocolate liquor, nor combined with sugar and vanilla to form the familiar rectangular bars, nibs are nascent chocolate, scattered fragments of cacao's dream.

Nibs used to be nothing more than a step in the process of turning cacao into chocolate, but then someone discovered that these nibs had an intriguing allure all there own. They have a nutty, earthy flavor, undiluted by sugar or other flavors found in finished chocolate - and a crunchy tang unlike any chocolate chip.

Alice Medrich has a wonderful essay on nibs in her must-have cookbook Bittersweet; in it she describes her first experience with this unusual new ingredient and how it inspired her to create new recipes around it. She describes in precise detail how nibs are not like chocolate chips at all: the flavor of nibs are more intense yet subtle at the same time, accentuating certain flavors and clashing with others. Their not-quite-chippy texture can also be a challenge; nibs don't give under a bite like a chocolate chip and can instead be unpleasantly gritty if thrown haphazardly in a concoction.

But with proper use nibs can be a revelation, with a taste unlike any other: almost chocolate but not quite, slightly nutty, a little bitter, with fruity undertones. My one favorite recipe from Medrich's book that really made me fall in love with nibs was her cacao nib ice cream - quite simply cream and milk infused with nibs, mixed with a bit of sugar, and spun into ice cream. The result is a pale, mocha-hued ice cream that has an astonishing depth of flavor: sweet, rich, and clean, like a memory of chocolate ice cream through misty glass. I make this over and over again and will have to put the recipe on here someday!

Other recipes I've used nibs in: Emily Luchetti's Chocolate-Covered Cocoa Nib Florentines and Orange Ice Cream Sandwiches, where the nibs worked nicely with the pistachios and chocolate, and on Medrich's Bittersweet Chocolate Tartlets as a crunchy contrast to the smooth chocolate filling.

For this month's SHF, I decided to make a pair of cookies - nibs work well in buttery, not-too-sweet cookies where they can add textural interest and flavor contrast.

Nibby Pecan Cookies

The first, from Bittersweet once again, is a Nibby Pecan Cookie (top of post). This is a butter cookie that is cutting-edge yet down-home comforting at the same time, a rich golden dough studded with pecans and nibs. The crisp-tender cookie melts on your tongue, filling your mouth with the flavors of toasted nuts and deep chocolate. Medrich notes this cookies improve over time, and it doe; after a couple of days the flavors have melded and deepened into a deeply satisfying complexity. Completely different from the standard chocolate chip cookie, and you may have difficulty choosing a favorite after you try this!


Chocolate Shortbread with Cacao Nibs and Sea Salt

This cookie, contributed by Elizabeth Falkner to Scharffenberger's Essence of Chocolate (another source of interesting recipes using nibs) is a study of nibs and sea salt. Using a rich chocolate shortbread base which is appropriately tender and not too sweet, the crunch of nibs plays with the crackle of salt.

This is a perfect setup to experiment with different salts; I tried a fine-flecked fleur de sel from Camargue, the coarse-grained pink Himalayan salt, and red Alaea Hawaiian sea salt. The Himalayan salt made the most dramatic impact, as the large salt crystals gave the cookie a noticeable crunch of sharp saltiness. The fleur de sel from Camargue blended more smoothly into the dough, making for a more subtle hint of salt mixing with the chocolate. The red Hawaiian sea salt fell somewhere in between, and had a mellow, smooth taste all its own. There is certainly room for you to try other exotic salts and find which pleases you most! The shortbread is also quite toothsome on its own, with the nibs contributing their own unique dimension to the darkly chocolate flavor.

I'm glad someone decided to taste these little flecks of the cacao pod before they were turned into chocolate, and realized what potential they had on their own. Who knows what other delectable gifts we have still to discover from the noble cacao tree?

Nibby Pecan Cookies

adapted from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet

makes about 48 cookies

3 1/2 ounces pecans

2 sticks (8 ounces) butter, room temperature

5 1/4 ounces granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/3 cup cocoa nibs

10 ounces all-purpose flour

Toast the pecans on a cookie sheet in a 325 degree oven for about 8 minutes until they are fragrant and dark. Let them cool and chop into small pieces.

Beat the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a stand mixer on medium-high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 1-2 minutes.

Add in the nibs and pecans and combine.

Add in the flour and combine carefully on low speed just until the flour is incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment and roll into a log about 2 inches in diameter and about 12 inches long.

Wrap the log of dough in parchment and chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, preferably overnight.

When you are ready to bake, take out the log of dough and let warm slightly - it will slice easier if the dough is softer. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Use a sharp knife to cut 1/4-inch thick slice from the log of dough. Place on the prepared sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake in the oven for 12-14 minutes, rotating halfway. You should start to smell the cookies at the end and the edges should turn golden brown.

Remove cookies from the oven and let cool on sheets for about a minute before transferring to wire racks to finish cooling.

The cookies will keep in an airtight container for about a month. They taste best after 24 hours.

Chocolate Shortbread with Cacao Nibs and Sea Salt

adapted from Essence of Chocolate

makes about 36 cookies

5 ounces all-purpose flour

2 1/2 ounces cocoa powder

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cacao nibs, crushed with a rolling pin

1 teaspoon sea salt, any kind

6 ounces butter, room temperature

3 1/2 ounces granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the flour and cocoa powder together in a bowl.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer on medium speed for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Add in the vanilla and mix to combine.

Add in about half of the flour-chocolate mixture and combine on low speed. Add the rest of the mixture and mix to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add in the nibs and salt and mix to combine.

At this point the dough can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness.

Cut the dough into 1-in by 2 1/2-in rectangles or whatever shape you desire.

Place the shapes on the prepared sheets and bake for 15 minutes, rotating halfway. The shortbread should be slightly firm but not hard.

Let cool on wire racks.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up a week.

And the site of the original Sugar High Friday.

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Those look amazing! I'm planning on using cocoa nibs for this SHF but have never used them before, I'm going to have to do some more research.

ooh, I have nibs! and raw cacao pods!...I think I'll have to give these recipes a try. Thanks for sharing :)

I also have Bittersweet but am yet to try making anything from it - though I do have to say that I've eyed the cookie recipe and have been searching for a stockist of these little nibs! Yours look wonderful :)

I think I am going to have (twist my arm) to use nibs too for this installment. I won't have time to make chocolate and use cocoa butter.

I hit "post" before I was done...these cookies look outrageous. I am especially intrigued by the cocoa nib/sea salt combo.

I have to agree with Helen, they both look really, really good - but I'm loving the chocolate/sea salt shortbread!

I have a little bag of nibs in my pantry and I've got 3 different salts as well - so I think I have no choice but to try these, yes? =)

I love the presentation of both too.. fabulous photos as always!

These are amazing, so original, using such unique ingredients.

What a combo, nibs and sea salt. I will have to give this one a try sometime! Thanks for always the photos are outstanding!

i love your rendition of nibby cookies!

The chocolate shortbread cookies look so good and they remind me of dominoes!

That ice cream sounds amazing, the way you described it was poetry to this food lovers heart! I'd like a big bowl of that ice cream with a side of these nibby cookies please. :)

I've been meaning to try those nibby pecan cookies, and seeing this has made them all the more tempting. I absolutely love Medrich's cocoa nib ice cream recipe. It's almost embarrassing to say this, but the flavor reminds me of a Wendy's frosty, only about ten thousand times better (and, umm, classier).

dear anita, looks fantastic, as are absolutely spot-on about bittersweet and the s.b. book being the to-date definitive books with recipes using nibs. the sea salty number, in particular, has me itching to try the recipe!

Dear Anita, What images and how very tempting! Use of Cacao nibs would make a huge difference I am sure. The chocolate short bread that you have shown looks amazing! Thank you for sharing this recipe with us. A post that was so informative and fun to read.


You're so creative! I wish I could enjoy some of those cookies with a tall glass of cold milk!

I made the Nibby Cookies (using hickory nuts instead of pecans) and they were amazing! Great flavor. I'm afraid I won't be able to see if they are actually better in a few days.

Mmm! I'm going to have to try and make both of these cookies! Great recipes!

I only wish I could have one of these now with tea. Another great dessert of yours Anita, but this is no surprise!

I made Cacao Nib cookies too! The flavour is really good, isn't it? The shortbread looks yum!

The nibby pecan cookies are interesting, but the chocolate shortbread with nibs and different kinds of sea salt are very, very interesting. The chocolate/salt pairing is one that has become very popular. This is a must try.

Yum. These look lovely. I've made something very similar before, a cocoa nib and hazelnut shortbread which used ground hazelnuts instead of most of the flour, and a little cornflour for lightness. I'd highly recommend this variation.

"nibs are nascent chocolate, scattered fragments of cacao's dream"

That is a glorious sentence, that extolls what the English language is cpable of. Imagistic and succinct. Bravo!

Not sure if my last comment went through, but this sentence, "nibs are nascent chocolate, scattered fragments of cacao's dream." is beautiful.

Your tiramisu with cacao nibs was just spectactular - love finding new uses for these little guys all the time!

Hope you enjoy the recipes, the nibby pecan ones are one of my favorites!

It's a great book - I would wholeheartedly recommend the cookies, as well the as the cocoa nib ice cream!

Thank you! I loved your little tartlets - so colorful and creative! I've never worked with cocoa butter - something for the future!

Thank you! Yes, I agree your pantry is telling you to try out the cookies:)

Thank you! It was fun working with different ingredients.

Thank you! Always fun to try out some new ingredients!

Thank you! They are one of my favorite cookies to make!

Thanks! That is a really cute image - they do look a little like fallen dominoes, don't they?

Thank you! I'll have to post the ice cream recipe soon - it would be just dreamy with the cookies!

You're right, it does remind me of the Wendy's Frosty! No shame, I used to get those all the time too!

Thank you! The s.b. book is like a dream come true - a novel and cookbook rolled into one!

Thank you! It was fun using these recipes to experiment in the kitchen!

Thanks! These cookies definitely made a dent in my stock of milk!

I've never made them with hickory nuts - sounds delicious! I agree it is hard to wait for them to "age" before eating!

Thank you! I hope you enjoy making them!

Thank you! I should have thrown a real tea party to help get rid of all the cookies I made!

Aren't those nibby cookies good? I love them!

Thanks! The shortbread recipe is such a good base for experimenting - and tasty too!

Thank you! I love hazelnuts, so this variation is definitely on my to-try list. Thanks!

Thank you! I hope I don't get carried away with my paeans to food, but sometimes I just have to express myself. Glad you approve!

When you tried three different salts, did you make the whole recipe 3 times? Or did you just divide up the dough and then add the salt?

You can do it either way depending on how many cookies you want. I divided my dough into thirds and added different salts to each one.

Looking for cookie recipes for my cookie exchange I came across the nibby pecan cookies which look like a perfect addition. Thanks!

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