If you thought that Meeta's latest Monthly Mingle was head-scratchingly taxing, then you weren't prepared for the evil brilliance of Emily Stone over at Chocolate in Context and her Sugar High Friday Theme: Raw (that's right, RAW) Chocolate.
What this loosely means is chocolate in its most natural form: pods, nibs, cocoa butter, unprocessed cocoa.
At first I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't be able to source any of the above raw chocolate ingredients anywhere, but, as usual, good old Ebay came to my rescue. I hate being a slave to that faceless online bidding meat market, but damn, if they haven't scored me some good bargains and paid for some bills too!
So, I managed to find a supplier of Cacao Nibs (which apparently go hand in hand with current new superfood, Goji Berries) and eagerly awaited their arrival.
I admit, being a major chocolate fan, that I was incredibly excited about trying the nibs. I had read such wonderful things about their health properties but more importantly (to me anyway), their taste!
When they did turn up, I opened the packaging and deeply inhaled the rich, earthy smell, more redolent of purest cocoa powder than chocolate bars. The nibs themselves resemble tiny wood chips and their texture is not far off wood either (not that I am a secret wood nibbler though). Taste wise they are much like a very high cocoa content chocolate: the flavour doesn't come through straight away, but gets stronger as it melts and the taste lingers on your tongue. There is a slight smokiness to the nibs and they leave a not too unpleasant bitter taste in the mouth.
In this most purest of form, they are apparently a great aphrodisiac, one of the greatest sources of anti-oxidants and are supposedly good for boosting your mood. I can't vouch too much for any of these claims but what I can wholeheartedly confirm is their intensely delicious taste when cooked or mixed with a natural sweetener.
In preparation for the event, I bought a book called Naked Chocolate written by superfood junkies, David Woolfe and Shazzie (no surname), who take every opportunity to extole the virtues of cacao nibs, blue sea algae and all manner of revolting sounding 'foods'. Whilst I don't buy into their hippy ethos of pure living through the consumption of raw foods, I am, if nothing else, always up for trying new and unusual ingredients. Generally I would not use the recipes listed in their book; for one, most of the ingredients are not your usual store cupboard staples (Optimum Source Chlorella, anyone?) and therefore they are extremely limiting, but I also enjoy trying to utilise unusual ingredients into 'normal' recipes such as cookies, or even chilli. I think it's important as a cook to familiarise yourself with recherche ingredients, and to use them in everyday recipes is the best way of achieving this familiarity.
But, to strike a fair balance for this post, I thought it would be interesting to use the Cacao Nibs in a regular cookie recipe but to also make some Truffles that use pureed dates for moistness and sweetness, the nibs for the chocolate hit and sesame seeds as, I suppose, added texture. A dash of Vanilla Extract adds a delicate flavour.
The Cookies are just your common or garden sugar biscuit recipe with half a cupful of the nibs used instead of chocolate chips. Interestingly, the nibs don't melt like chocolate chips but retain their woody nature. For people who are unable to eat nuts due to allergies or intolerances, the nibs texture is redolent of chopped hazelnuts with the flavour of rich, dark chocolate.
CHOCOLATE NIB COOKIES makes 20-24 depending on size
1/2 Cup Softened Butter
1/2 Cup Demerara Sugar (or any brown sugar)
1/2 Cup Vanilla Sugar (or white sugar)
1 Egg, beaten
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pinch Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Cacao Nibs
1 Cup Plain Flour, sifted
Preheat oven to 170c.
Line a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
Cream the softened butter with the sugars until light and fluffy.
Beat in the egg and Vanilla, if it splits, add some of the flour.
Add the sifted flour, salt and baking powder and mix thoroughly.
Fold in the Nibs.
Spoon dessertspoonfuls of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between the biscuits.
Bake for 10-13 minutes, depending on how crisp you like your biscuits.
Leave to cool on the sheets and then apply to mouth.
Be warned: these are very, very moreish which is probably in no small part to the pure caffeine in the nibs.

The truffles are an adaptation of a recipe taken from the Naked Chocolate book. In fact, an amalgamation of two recipes: their truffle recipe and their chocolate sauce recipe which forms the base of many other recipes.
I made the sauce several nights ago, being not entirely sure what I was going to do with it. I was planning on making a tart or maybe some muffins but eschewed those in favour of truffles. I love truffles but have never made my own so thought this would be a great excuse to lose my truffle virginity. Also, truffles exude an air of luxury, something we could do with during these lean times!
As I mentioned, they are made using a simple combination of nibs, vanilla, dates and sesame seeds and take no longer than five minutes from start to finish, unlike dairy truffles, which are made with fresh cream and have to chill in the fridge before you can form them. Therefore, it is feasible that you can be sitting down, bowl of truffles on your lap, watching reruns of Millennium before the craving has barely kicked in. I like this kind of cooking!
I admit that I felt a pang of dubiousness when I read the ingredients; would these taste like some mealy-mouthed, flavourless vegan substitute for rich, dairy truffles? Far from it. Whilst the texture is unlike that of creamy truffles, these have a grainy bite that is not at all unpleasant. They feel and taste substantial, and the pure caffeine in the nibs gives you a great sense of well-being. They are an instant good mood hit. The sesame seeds add a nutty flavour that is particularly tasty, and, when rolled in some deep, dark cocoa powder, they really taste sensational.
Remember though that I still had some of the chocolate sauce leftover in the fridge (we scooped some of it out with our fingers every time we visited the fridge) and because I had deep concerns about the dry texture of the truffles, I added what was left of the sauce to the final mixture. I am not certain that the final recipe required this so I am just going to give you the basic four ingredient recipe. However, if you find that the truffle mixture is a little too dry, or not sweet enough, I would suggest adding a drizzle of Agave Syrup or honey and a few drops of unflavoured vegetable oil. Remember that the nibs have no additives so may well need some lubricant.
CACAO NIB TRUFFLES - makes 12-14 depending on size
Half Cup Cacao Nibs
Half Cup Sesame Seeds
Half Cup Dates
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Some Agave Syrup or Honey to taste
Few drops of Vegetable Oil
Cocoa Powder, Sesame seeds, icing sugar for rolling
In a coffee grinder, blend the nibs and sesame seeds until they form a dry, crumbly mixture. It will not be smooth, rather it will be quite pleasantly textured.
In a blender, whizz up the dates until finely processed. Depending on the age of the dates (mine were old and dried out that they resembled boot leather), they may take longer to process.
Add the nib/sesame seed mixture and process until combined.
Taste for sweetness and add some agave or honey. Process and taste again. If the mixture is still very dry (which it shouldn't be at this point), you can add a little of the vegetable oil.
Pour the mixture out into a dish and press down with the back of a wooden spoon to form a firm block.
You can now form the mixture into small balls, the size of walnuts, and roll them into some cocoa powder or sesame seeds, depending on your preference.
Options: You could add some rum or kirsch to mixture, omitting the Vanilla Extract, or swap the dates for dried figs or perhaps glace cherries. You could also add some chopped preserved ginger or roll the truffles in some chopped pistachios or hazelnuts.
Again, this recipe comes with a warning: these truffles are seriously delicious!


Meeta said...

I guess we all like to tease the rest of you a bit. But hey at least you get out of the rut of cooking baked beans and eggs for dinner everyday.

Love this!

Gattina said...

really fantastic write-up! I love your recipes approach these nibs in such a down-home way, esp your truffles, sound excellent!

Brilynn said...

I like that you used dates in the truffles, I'd really like to give these a try.

Lis said...

Very funny post.. especially describing the cookbook.. heee!

Both recipes sound really, really interesting and equally as good. I'm intrigued with the date truffles and am now wondering if I should adapt the recipe to use up the rest of my dried figs. Yum!

Great submission to the event!!


Sig said...

The truffles look soooooo good...
And the Cacao Nibs alone looks so mouthwatering, I feel like grabbing a handful from the picture... I have seen these in the Whole Foods market here, didn't really know what it looked like inside the packet

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Seems that nibs are the rage! Both the cookies and the truffles look beautiful. I'm very intrigued with the dates. Wish you could teleport one over.

Toni said...

Your truffle recipe makes me weak in the knees....I adore dark chocolate, and this looks different and tempting!

Kathryn said...

I've just had my dinner but this post has me salivating! The cookies look great and the truffles extraordinary; wow!

Kathryn x

Katie said...

I've got to get out of the country and into a city where there are proper markets and shops...or use e-bay. I've never seen nibs before but now that I have...I want them.
Your truffles look yummy!

Joyce said...

Ah, Freya, nice to see you at least giving a nod to nutrition!
Love the adaptation of the cookies and the truffles are a crowd pleaser and great for gift giving.
The raw food movement is gathering momentum with many fine offerings to complement our old standbys.
Love the eclectic nature of your posts. Thanks.

Kelly-Jane said...

Great post!

I would like to taste the raw nibs as well, but not as much as the truffles with dates, they sounds amazing. I espcially like that there is no refined sugar there. Absolutley health food ;)

Cookies look lovely too.

Helene said...

If you have any truffles left, I am on the next plane! This is a yummy entry!

Deb said...

Hey Freya! Thanks for stopping by. Love your blog as well! I'll be reading! ;)

tigerfish said...

I'm looking for my cup of joe now, to go with your cookies and truffles.

rachel said...

I going into a sugar coma just reading those two recipes! They look great.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Holy cow! No wait......holy cacao! These look stupendo-choco-tastic! Damn!

Lucy said...

Cocoa nibs, eh? I considered buying some the other day when I was out and about, but thought better as I had no idea what to do with them.

Now I do.

Oh, Yum.

Thank you for your very kind words.

Paprika said...

You have a lovely blog! Those truffles look deadly. Thanks for dropping by!

Chubbypanda said...

I grew up cooking with goji berries, which are a classic Chinese ingredient. I remember friends in Uni poking around my pantry and asking me what they were. The things Western health food fans are doing with them disturbs me...

On the other hand, the things you've done with chocolate in this post have captured the interest of my salivary glands. Delightful!