Making good on my promise to lay off the Martha for a while, I found myself looking at my shelf of cookbooks when I spotted one entitled, Pure Dessert. My first thought was, "What the heck is that? I don't even remember ever buying that book," but upon pulling it from the shelf and paging through it, it quickly came back to me. I originally purchased it back in 2007, not long after graduating from college, when I was having a love affair with the writing of chocolate expert and baking guru Alice Medrich. I'd checked out her earlier works from the library, photocopying the recipes I deemed interesting enough to try at a later date, but Pure Dessert was newly released, so I invested in a copy of my own.
The book focuses on respecting the integrity of quality ingredients, and seeks to educate its readers on the "pure" flavors of each. There are chapters dedicated to the flavors of dairy, where she makes things like cheesecakes and simple ice creams, chocolate, fruit, and the one I found most interesting, the flavors of grains. To write this chapter, she went beyond the standard unbleached all-purpose flour used for most baking to explore the unique flavor possibilities presented by incorporating various whole grain flours into baked goods. Many of her more intriguing recipes had ingredients that were too difficult for me to source without resorting to ordering them online (for instance, a phenomenal-looking recipe for shortbread featuring kamut, an heirloom wheat variety with its origins in ancient Egypt).
I ended up settling for a recipe that turned regular whole wheat flour into buttery, crumbly sablés studded with cacao nibs, which were just beginning to become trendy at the time. Cacao nibs are the fermented beans of the cacao plant that are broken up into tiny pieces before being ground and processed to become the chocolate that we're used to eating. The nibs are crunchy like a nut, with a variety of complex floral, fruity, bitter, and roasted flavor notes. I easily found them at Whole Foods, but it took a while to get around to trying the recipe.
Not unlike my current custom of pawning off my baked goods on my hungry coworkers, I was in the habit of taking my baking experiments to the office where I was working my first job, because one of my coworkers was a self-described foodie with whom I often exchanged recipes. It was a small office though, consisting of about four people besides myself, and one of the ladies who worked there was a sad, middle-aged floozy who wore things to the office that wouldn't be appropriate on a woman half her age, and spent long hours during her day on the phone with her girlfriends loudly discussing her sexual exploits. I couldn't stand her, to say the least. One day, I'd baked some peanut butter cookies and brought them to work, and she angrily poked her head in my office and hissed, "You're just trying to sabotage my Weight Watchers aren't you?!? You know I'm on a diet!" She wasn't kidding.
So, I did the only thing I could do -- I baked my first batch of Alice Medrich's Nibby Whole Wheat Sablés and took them in to the office with a sign that read, "Whole Wheat Cookies with Cacao Nibs -- Full of antioxidants and low in calories!!" I gleefully watched as the woman gobbled down cookie after cookie, thanking me for considering her dietary needs. I never felt the need to let her know that each batch of cookies contained a full half-pound of butter, and I made sure to bake them frequently and bring them in to work for her enjoyment.
After that job and I parted ways, the recipe fell off my radar screen until I was compelled to pull its book off the shelf once more. It was fun taking a trip down memory lane, but even more fun getting to taste these sophisticated treats once more. Now that I've got more baking experience under my belt, it might be time to see about obtaining some of the other ingredients featured in Pure Dessert so I can make some more flavor discoveries. Until then, I can definitely recommend these sablés as a starting point for someone looking to experiment with alternative flours in their own baking.
Nibby Whole Wheat Sablés
adapted from Alice Medrich
1 c. (4.5 oz) all-purpose flour
Scant 1 c. (4 0z) whole-wheat flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 c. cacao nibs
Whisk together the all-purpose and whole wheat flours and set aside. In a medium bowl, with the back of a spoon, beat the butter with the sugar, salt, and vanilla for about one minute, until smooth and creamy but not fluffy. Stir in cacao nibs. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Scrape the dough into a mass and, if necessary, knead it with your hands a couple times, just until smooth.
Form the dough into a 12 by 2-inch log. Wrap with wax paper and refrigerate for at least two hours, or, preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into 1/4-inch slices. Place the cookies at least 1.5 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are golden brown at the edges, 12-14 minutes. Let the cookies firm up on the pans for about a minute, then transfer to a rack and allow to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to one month.