Cocoa nibs are roasted cocoa beans that have been fermented, roasted, shelled out of their hulls and crunched into little bits. If you’ve read reports that claim chocolate is good for you (tell me more, newspaper man!) they’re talking about the cocoa nibs, the primary ingredient in chocolate production and the source of chocolate’s antioxidant properties and other benefits. The nibs have a pleasant, chocolatey bitterness and add a terrific crunchy-tender texture when folded into cookie doughs, as we’re doing with these graceful little cookies. (They’ll also add a fabulous nutty, mocha flavor to your morning brew when ground with coffee beans.)
These cookies are barely sweet, with toasty top notes of hazelnuts, bright bursts of currants and a midnight-dark crunch from the cocoa nibs. Tiptoeing the line between sweet and savory, they work well as a pre-dinner offering, served with holiday apértifs or sparkling wine, or a crispy addition to a post-prandial cookie plate. The baked cookies keep beautifully, too (they taste even better the day after they’re baked) so you can bake off dozens to share well before your guests’ arrivals.
Hazelnut Cookies with Currants & Cocoa Nibs
adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, 2010;
makes about four dozen 2″ cookies
- 1 C whole hazelnuts
- 1 C (4.5 oz) all-purpose flour
- 1 scant C (4 oz) whole wheat flour
- 14 Tbsp (1.75 sticks or 7 oz) unsalted butter, lightly softened
- 1/2 C plus 1 Tbsp sugar
- 3/8 tsp fleur de sel or 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 C (1 oz) cocoa nibs
- scant 2/3 C (3.33 oz) currants
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Toast the hazelnuts for 10 minutes; meanwhile, prep the other ingredients. When the hazelnuts are cool enough to handle, rub them together in handfuls to remove the papery skins. (You won’t be able to remove all of the skins, but don’t worry about it.) Chop the nuts medium-coarse, or whatever size you prefer.
Whisk the flours together in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth and creamy (but not fluffy). Mix in the cocoa nibs and hazelnuts. Add the flours until just combined. Mix in the currants. Scrape the dough into a large mass, smushing with your hands or a spatula to incorporate the shaggy bits and working in all the flour.
Shape into a 12 x 2″ long log (or two shorter logs) and wrap well in plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight, to firm up the butter and set the flavors.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. With a sharp knife, slice the cold dough into 1/4″ thick rounds. Place 1 1/2″ apart on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake 12-14 minutes, until light golden brown at the edges. Let cool completely; cookies are best the following day and will keep, well-wrapped at room temperature, for about 2 weeks.
Note: this dough freezes well, too, up to a month or so. You can find cocoa nibs at health food stores and gourmet specialty markets.