In the season of cookies, is one that is pitch black and thoroughly unadorned the most festive one you will make? Nope, but it is the most versatile.
When it comes to holiday baking, I’m looking for as many shortcuts, multi-taskers, and workhorses as possible and these shatteringly crisp cocoa wafer cookies fit the bill. Not only do they come together in less than 10 minutes using a food processor, you can make them in advance and freeze them unbaked or baked. The uses for this little black dress of a cookie is limited only by your imagination. Use them as the foundation for icebox cakes, for sandwich cookies, as the perfect crunchy accompaniment to ice cream, or grind them up for cookie-crumb pie crusts. It’s that last one that made me seek out this recipe in the first place.
Ever since I started baking almost 20 years ago, my go-to for chocolate cookie pie crusts was Nabisco’s Famous Wafers. Well, I don’t know what Nabisco’s deal is, but those cookies have become increasingly difficult to find. Oreos and chocolate graham crackers make decent substitutes, but their textures and flavors aren’t as crisp or as chocolaty as I would like. Therefore, I am grateful for this recipe by Alice Medrich via Smitten Kitchen.
Not only is the flavor superior to any store-bought cookie, the ingredients are far more straightforward with good old butter and sugar rather than soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup. Because the ingredients and flavors are so simple, it’s important to use a good quality cocoa powder.
What makes for good quality? A cocoa powder with a fat content of 22-24%. Most supermarket cocoa powders don’t have anything close to that and, as a result, yield baked goods lacking in taste and texture. Good quality doesn’t mean expensive or hard to find, however. Droste is a good brand that is available in many grocery stores. I use Cacao Barry Extra Brute (available on Amazon for about $10/lb.) and, if you are in the mood to splurge, many pastry chefs swear by Valrhona.
A couple tips and tricks. For cookies with a more uniformly round shape, bust out an empty paper towel tube to help shape the dough. Split the tube open lengthwise and place the wrapped dough inside. Secure the tube with a few rubber bands and pop in the fridge to chill.
Finally, when slicing the dough into cookies, I find the easiest way to do it is to cut straight down with a sharp knife rather than using a sawing motion. Cutting straight down will give you nice, clean, sharp slices whereas as sawing through the dough tends to cause crumbling.
I hope these deceptively simple and delicious cookies make their way onto your holiday table in way or another.
Crisp Cocoa Wafer Cookies
A shatteringly crisp, not-too-sweet and deeply chocolaty cookie that is incredibly easy to make and endlessly versatile.
- 6.75 ounces all-purpose flour 1 1/2 cups; 189g
- 2.4 ounces unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder such as Droste, Cacao Barry, or Valrhona 3/4 cup; 67g
- 8 ounces granulated sugar 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 225g
- 1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt half as much if using table salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 7 ounces unsalted butter, slightly softened 14 tablespoons; 1 3/4 sticks; 196g
- 3 tablespoons whole milk
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and baking soda in the bowl of food processor and pulse several times to mix thoroughly. Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and add them to the bowl. Pulse several times. Combine the milk and vanilla in a small cup. With the processor running, add the milk mixture and continue to process until the mixture clumps around the blade or the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a large bowl or a cutting board and knead a few times to make sure it is evenly blended.
Form the dough into a log about 14 inches long and 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in parchment or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour, or until needed. If you want cookies with a more uniformly round shape, place the wrapped cookies inside of a empty paper towel tube that has been split open lengthwise. Close the roll around the dough by securing it with three rubber bands. After wrapping the dough well and sealing in a zip-top plastic bag, it can also be frozen. If using frozen dough, thaw overnight in fridge before proceeding.
Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the log of dough into slices 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick and place them one inch apart on the lined sheets (cookies will spread). I wouldn’t try to fit more than 8 cookies on a sheet at a time. Bake, rotating the baking sheet from top to bottom and back to front about halfway through baking, for a total of 12 to 15 minutes. Because they are thin, err on the side of checking around 12 minutes. The cookies will be ready to remove from the oven when the have puffed and then deflated into flat discs.
Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on racks for a couple minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks or be frozen for up to two months.
Note: These cookies should crisp as they cool. I have found they are crisp within just minutes of being removed from the oven. If the cookies are not crisp, return them to the oven to reheat, bake a couple minutes more and then cool again.