Making their rounds through the culinary blogosphere, cacao nibs seem to be everywhere these days. They are folded into buttery and chocolatey cookie doughs, sprinkled atop chic pasta dishes, and here at Red Ramekin, tucked into my favorite treat: biscotti.
I was so excited about using cacao nibs that I made two batches of biscotti with them. One was adapted from David Lebovitz's very dark and chocolatey biscotti, (featured in the pictures below) and the other was an adaptation of my regular almond biscotti recipe, enhanced with a touch of cocoa, spices, and of course, the nibs themselves. I'll admit it, though, we gobbled up the second batch so quickly that we kind of, um, forgot about the whole taking pictures thing....so use your imagination. They looked like a cross between the almond and the chocolate varieties, with visible chunks of nib speckling the dough.
Before getting to the biscotti, though, let's talk nibs. The cacao nib is a wholly worthwhile culinary experience, even at $9 for a smallish-sized box from Scharffen Berger. The nibs are simply roasted and crushed cacao beans, which are usually used to make the smooth and sweet chocolate that we are used to eating. The nibs, though, are unadorned, and on their own taste intensely chocolatey and bitter, like unsweetened baking chocolate. You might say that they are an "acquired taste," or if you aren't a total and unabashed food snob, you might just toss them into some cookie dough and enjoy the chocolate crunchiness that they impart when paired with something sweet.
In cookies the nibs seem to lose their harsh bitterness, and taste almost like very dark chocolate bits. The texture is quite different though, and the visual effect is much more interesting. In our first batch of biscotti, I timidly chopped the nibs to soften their harshness, but this proved unnecessary; in the second batch, I tossed the pieces in as they were, and they struck just the right balance of subtlety and bite.
Until it is definitively shown through dubious medical evidence and sensationalized New York Times articles that cacao is the most anti-oxidant rich substance in the world, though, I'm not sure I'll go out of my way to acquire more nibs. A little bit goes a long way, so we still have a few handfuls of these little treasures left. I'm trying to dream up a new use, but then again, I never tire of cookies. Once we've worked our way through this box, though, I doubt we'll be seeing another one until our next lazy afternoon spent meandering through the Ferry Building.
Our first batch of biscotti (pictured in this post) were quite yummy, but a bit too chocolatey for me. If you are looking for a relatively healthy chocolate cookie, though, these would work just fine. I prefer my biscotti to be a bit lighter, thus facilitating my habit of eating 10-20 of them per sitting. Keeping this in mind, I made the second batch with just a couple tablespoons of cocoa to complement the nibs, and some spices to heighten the flavor without going overboard. I enjoyed these cookies much more, and found that the nibs were really the star ingredient. In batch #1, the nibs were all but lost in the hefty dose of cocoa powder and smattering of dark chocolate chunks that I added to the dough.
If you are looking for a biscotti-making tutorial, check out my earlier post on almond biscotti. And if you get your hands on some nibs and are looking for a recipe, try this one. (To put things in perspective, we devoured the entire batch in two days.) I happen to love the combination of cocoa and warm spices, but you can tweak the recipe according to your tastes. I also added some liqueur to this recipe, which makes the dough supple and easy to form into logs. I think the nutty-fruity scent of frangelico works really well here, but amaretto, brandy, or perhaps even Grand Marnier would work. These biscotti have just a small amount of sugar, perfect for a snacking/dunking cookie. If you like sweeter cookies, increase the sugar to 2/3 c. For recipe directions, see the post mentioned above.
Nibby Spiced Biscotti
2 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tbs. unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
pinch of cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/4 c. frangelico
2/3 c. whole toasted almonds
1/4 c. (or more, if desired) unsweetened cacao nibs