Cocoa Butter Stars in These Outrageously Tasty Cookies

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Unlike those who forever chase the notion of a "perfect" chocolate chip cookie, I believe in having a recipe for every occasion. There are times when an aged dough with brown butter is worth the wait, and times when you want an old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie now.

On other days, it's fun to break with tradition and play around with special ingredients, like barley malt syrup, to make chocolate chip cookies truly unique. Along those lines, I've recently fallen in love with the magic of chocolate chip cookie dough that's made by replacing half the butter with raw cocoa butter. And, as you can see, the results ain't bad.

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"Raw" or "undeodorized" cocoa butter (the terms may vary by brand) was once something available only to professionals, all but impossible for the average baker to procure. Today, it's readily found in health food stores or online, from brands like Terrasoul and Wild Foods. Unlike more highly refined versions, raw cocoa butter packs an unbelievable chocolate aroma from the moment you open the bag. (Since it's solid at room temperature, it's packed in bags, like chocolate chips.)

Just as a mix of butter and coconut oil will make my snickerdoodles extra soft and rich, blending butter and cocoa butter works the same way, while adding an amazing chocolate vibe, too. The main difference is that cocoa butter, as mentioned above, is rock-solid at room temperature, so it has to be melted, then cooled to about 90°F (32°C) for use.

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In this recipe, plain white sugar works to keep the cocoa butter's delicate scent front and center; I found the molasses notes in brown sugar a little distracting, although I enjoyed batches made with lightly toasted sugar. A pinch of nutmeg helps coax out more aroma from traditional butter, while a generous splash of vanilla enhances the chocolaty smell.

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During the initial moments of creaming, the warm cocoa butter will make the mixture seem soupy and thin. But as the cocoa butter begins to cool, it will solidify and cream up fluffy and light. From there, the dough comes together like any other, with a whole egg beaten in, followed by all-purpose flour. The final addition is a modest amount of dark milk chocolate, which is bold enough to stand up to the dough, but mellow enough to not overwhelm the delicate cocoa aroma.

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I went with Valrhona's BahibĂ© 46%, a favorite from my restaurant days, described as "on the edge of Dark Chocolate, in the heart of Milk Chocolate." Another option is Endangered Species 48%, which is stocked in the candy aisle at my local Kroger—it's ostensibly a snacking bar, but it's great for baking.

The dough won't look super chocolate-chippy in the end, but that's the point; when you splurge on fancy cocoa butter, it should be the star of the show. To that end, I finish the cookies with a pinch of salt and a scattering of cocoa nibs, for one last layer of cocoa flavor and crunch. The nibs aren't essential, so there's no need to make a special order, but if you happen to have any on hand, they'll push these cookies over the top.

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If you're used to cocoa nibs that look and taste like sawdust, give 'em another shot with a more reputable brand, such as Valrhona or Healthworks. Whichever brand you choose, cocoa nibs should be rather chunky and crisp, with a strong bitter flavor that can cut through sweet doughs.

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Bake until the cookies are puffed and firm around the very edges, though still fairly pale overall, about 15 minutes at 350°F (180°C). Due to the reduced lactose content of this recipe, the cookies won't brown much in the oven (it's the Maillard reaction, not caramelization, that's primarily responsible for browning in cookie dough). For that reason, you can't rely on typical visual cues, like "golden brown," so it's better to give them a gentle poke to make sure they've fully set around the edges.

Cool the cookies directly on the parchment-lined half sheet pan. While warm, they'll be soft and chewy, but a little crisp around the edges, with a chocolate vibe that sneaks up on you over time. Their chocolate flavor won't knock you over the head like a brownie, but it's not meant to, either; instead, it'll drift over you like a light wind that smells of chocolate, relaxing and mild—the perfect cookie for when you're craving something both familiar and new.