Monday, December 03, 2007

Jack Frost Nibbing At Your Toes

I listened to the wind howl and rattle the roof all night, so it didn't surprise to find the snow flurries aimed at my window when I woke up this morning. Given my still-weakened state, I knew there was no way I'd be up for the workday, so I stayed home and bundled up, watching the snow from a warm vantage point.

By late afternoon, I had enough energy to venture into the kitchen to resume my holiday baking. What can I say? Doing something useful usually helps me feel better, and getting something checked off my to-do list definitely helps me feel better.

Instead of making the last batch of biscotti, though, I decided to try a new recipe: Chocolate Shortbread with Cacao Nibs and Sea Salt, found in The Essence of Chocolate by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger, the founders of -- you guessed it -- Scharffen Berger Chocolate.

I'd been eyeing this recipe since I borrowed the book from the library, and on my last trip to West Point Market I decided to splurge and bring home a box of the cacao nibs for just such an experiment. So I pulled out the ingredients with hungry enthusiasm today, ready to give it a go.

Alas, I only had half the amount of cocoa powder needed for the recipe, so I only made half a batch. But believe it or not, I followed the recipe to the letter just to make sure my cookies turned out as "hedonistic" as the book claimed them to be.

Having sifted cocoa powder and flour into one bowl and crushed the cacao nibs in my mortar (adding the sea salt afterward), I creamed together butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. I then added the flour mixture, working everything together, and stirred in the nibs and the salt at the last.

Then I worked the dough together by hand (yes, I washed them well), kneading it slightly until I had formed a ball and flattened it into a disk.

The recipe indicated that the dough should be rolled out between sheets of wax paper which, while on the wasteful side, was actually useful to me today so that I didn't have to worry about thoroughly disinfecting the counter twice. Once I had the dough to the right thickness, I pulled out my pastry cutter (I love the wavy lines it makes) and cut out squares of shortbread dough to bake.

Just fifteen minutes, and they were done! And oh, the irresistible fragrance of dark chocolate filled the kitchen, inviting me to sample one warm square. I sank into the barely sweetened richness of it, enjoying the nutty crunch of the nibs and the occasional hit of saltiness. Another winner!

Since the half-batch made less than two dozen squares, only a couple of people will have the opportunity to sample these delights. But as I reassured my audibly-pouting Fabulous Aunt on the phone later, I think I may have to make them again around Christmas.

When the weather gets a little nibby, you've got to have good chocolate!


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