October 27, 2010

Not enough chocolate

We need more chocolate. There are a lot of cookies featured on this site already, even though it's only been a year and a half or so since starting this blogging thing, but that's mostly because they're one of my favorite, hard-to-mess-up goods to bake. Besides, who can say no to another cookie involving chocolate, especially one called midnight crackle? Good chocolate is always welcome. There aren't nearly enough recipes using it here as it is.

Have I told you how much I love dark chocolate? Oh yeah, it's one of my favorite things to eat. Deep, dark, and smooth types are the best, with the occasional flavor additions like sea salt or orange peel or crystallized ginger. Chocolove makes a good dark ginger bar, Lindt makes a good sea salt bar, and then there's Thorntons, a British company specializing in blocks of chocolate incorporating unusual but appealing flavors, which are quite, quite excellent. So if you're ever in London, you now know where to go. Michael's been a few times, and he brought me samples. Last but not least, he would probably like me to also mention Fauchon, a French brand (the best had to be French) that produces pricey but incredible chocolates, among other delicacies. I've had the opportunity of visiting Fauchon in Paris, but unfortunately, my mind was focused on finding coffee beans at the time, so I overlooked the chocolate, much to my chagrin after flying home. This oversight will not occur again, if the chance for another visit arises in the future.

Aside from actual bars, nearly all other forms of chocolate are most acceptable, from cookies to flourless cakes to truffles to whatever can be made with the bittersweet variety. These crackles are soft and chewy with just a hint of sweet heat from a miniscule amount of cinnamon and cloves. They do look like crackled bits of midnight, the wrinkled surfaces penetrated by tiny cracks and crevices revealing a dark interior. I remember making these for the first time a few years ago, after drooling over them in a fall issue of Bon Appétit. This is the only time I've baked them since. I don't know what took me so long. They appear rather unassuming but pack a punch. Ten ounces of bittersweet chocolate plus a half cup of cocoa powder should do that.

Because of the amount of chocolate, try to use the highest quality you can find, or afford. The difference in taste is remarkable. I used chocolate chips to no ill effect, but would have preferred something darker. Chips usually have a smaller cocoa percentage than bars and aren't quite as smooth, nor do they contain the complexity and depth in flavor a superior bar (or block) has. Sometimes, though, you just make do with what you have. The making do part isn't that bad. Being happy about it is the difficult part, which I have been working on. Disappointment, however trivial, is not fun to deal with. That being said, Callebaut and Lindt make decent-sized blocks that work well in baking. 

It's very important not to overbake the cookies, or else the edges will become stale and quite unappealing. Remember, they will continue to cook a little while resting on the sheets after being pulled from the oven, so don't mind if they seem somewhat underbaked. They will be puffy.

Midnight Crackles
Adapted from Bon Appétit

10 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1 ¼ cups packed (light) brown sugar
10 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp cloves
2 large eggs

Place the butter, sugar, and chocolate, in that order, into a 2-quart saucepan. Place the pan over low heat and warm the ingredients, stirring occasionally, until they are melted and smooth. Scrape everything into a large bowl.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl.

Add the eggs, one at a time, to the large bowl of chocolate, beating until well blended with a wooden spoon. Add the dry ingredients, mixing just until the dough is smooth and shiny; it will clean the sides of the bowl and form a ball. Divide the dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days. If the dough is solid, let stand on counter for 30 minutes before proceeding.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Working with 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, roll the dough between your palms to form firm, shiny balls (if the dough breaks as you work, squeeze and knead it a bit, then re-roll it). Place the balls about 1 inch apart on the baking sheets and lightly press each one down a tad with your fingertips.

Bake the cookies for 10 - 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. The cookies should be delicately firm and crackled across the top (it's better to under than overbake). Remove the sheets from the oven, let the cookies rest on the sheets for 2 minutes, then, using a wide metal spatula, gently transfer the cookies to a rack. Cool to room temperature. Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Makes 50 cookies.

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