It’s a new month, and a new section for the Modern Baker Challenge. If you’ve been following along with the Challenge, you know that the next section in the book is Cakes. However, since the beginning of this section coincides with holiday baking season, we decided to jump ahead in the book to the last section, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti. And the first recipe in the Cookies section is Cocoa Nib Brownies.
When I first looked at this recipe, I had no idea what cocoa (sometimes written cacao) nibs were. In the intro to the recipe, Nick Malgieri explains that “nibs are cocoa beans that have gone through the fermenting, roasting, crushing, and skinning process.” Generally, cocoa butter and sugar are added to the nibs, and the resulting mix is processed into chocolate.
Cocoa nibs have become popular in baking and are used to add a bittersweet crunch to baked goods. If you’ve never tried them, the closest comparison I can think of is coffee beans. If you’ve ever tasted a roasted coffee bean, you have an idea what nibs taste like. Bitter, astringent, and not something you’d want to eat on its own. Now think of a chocolate-covered coffee bean. It’s still has a strong bitter flavor, but the chocolate tempers it, and the crunch and bite of the bean can be enjoyed.
That’s pretty much what nibs are like. You definitely don’t want to eat them on their own (although if you’re like me, you have to try them just so you’ll appreciate the flavor and texture). But mix them into something like a rich, fudgy brownie, and the bittersweet crunch they add is truly something to experience.
Other than the nibs, the ingredients in these brownies are all fairly common. Like most really good brownie recipes I’ve tried, this recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, rather than cocoa powder. To make the brownies, I melted butter in a saucepan, then removed the pan from the heat and added chopped chocolate, allowing the heat from the butter and pan to melt the chocolate while I prepared the remaining ingredients.
I put dark brown sugar in the mixer bowl and added eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. After beating in salt, sugar, and vanilla, I removed the bowl from the mixer and folded in the chocolate-butter mixture with a rubber spatula. I mixed in the flour by hand, then folded in 1/4 cup of the cocoa nibs. The recipe is baked in a 9 x 13-inch pan, but only calls for 1 1/4 cups flour, so I knew the resulting brownies would be really fudgy.
I scraped the batter into the pan, which I had sprayed with pan spray. The recipe calls for lining the pan with buttered foil, so that the brownies can be lifted out of the pan in order to cut perfectly even squares. Since I planned to serve the brownies right from the pan, I skipped the foil.
I scattered another 1/4 cup cocoa nibs on top of the batter and baked the brownies in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes, until the brownies were firm but still very moist. After cooling the brownies in the pan (and maybe cutting off a tiny little corner to sample), I covered the pan and put it into the refrigerator overnight. The overnight rest made the brownies easier to cut — they were very moist — and really intensified the flavor.
I put the brownies on the snack table while my family was in town for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t around when the brownies were cut into, and everyone was trying to figure out what the crunch was from. No one had ever had cocoa nibs, but they all agreed that the bittersweet, chocolatey crunch was perfect for these rich, fudgy brownies.
This was a great start to the Cookies section in The Modern Baker and has me looking forward to the next five months of cookies, bars, and biscotti.