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Chocolate Chili Cookies with Habanero Pepper

Not for the faint of heart, these are sweet and nutty with more than a little kick from the pepper.  I've been trying to combine chocolate and chili in a cookie for a long time now, and these are the first ones that really work for me.  It's only fair to give warning about the pepper; while they're not terribly strong, they do have enough heat to disturb some tender palates.  Serious chiliheads and fire eaters, however, may find them a bit tame.

Sheets lightly greased or silpat-lined         Oven 350 degrees F       Time 12 minutes

5 oz (about 150 grams) bittersweet chocolate of your choice, chopped (I rely on 70% scharffenberger)

1/4 cup (half a cube) unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup honey

1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (if not using vanilla bean)

Mill together:
  225 grams soft wheat
  about 4 inches of vanilla bean, chopped into 1/4 inch or smaller chunks
  1 dried habanero chili**, cut in half, seeds and membrane removed, and chopped finely; if the chili is not crisp-dry, toast it for a few seconds at a time in the microwave until it is crisp-dry, or it will gum up the mill
OR substitute
  1 1/2 cups sifted unbleached flour
   1 teaspoon vanilla extract
   1 dried habanero chili

1/2 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, lightly toasted***
1/4 cup roasted cacao nibs

Take half of the chocolate and set it aside to be added to the batter later, as intact chips.  Take the rest and melt it in the microwave on low power, stirring frequently, or over hot but not boiling water. 

Cream together the butter and the sugar.  Beat in the melted chocolate, honey, egg, and vanilla extract (if using). 

Sift the soda and salt over the flour--don't stir it in or resift together if the habanero is milled into it, unless you really like to cough (see note**).  Stir into the batter with the coconut, nibs, and reserved chocolate chunks, until just mixed.

Drop cookies onto prepared sheets, flatten lightly--since these pack a wallop, I make them small, about an inch and a half in diameter, and a quarter inch thick.  They won't spread much.  

Bake 12 minutes, until tops are just starting to be firm to the touch.   Remove immediately from the baking sheets to a cooling rack--they are messy to remove if they cool on the sheets.

**These are seriously hot, and should be handled with respect, regardless of whether or not you're a fire eater.  If you use your fingers to do the seeding, you may have burning fingers--especially under the nails!--for a while afterwards.  I prefer to handle only their exterior, and use a spoon or table knife to scrape out the seeds and membranes.  Be careful with the seeds and trimmings--if put down the drain with hot water, you can have an interesting respiratory experience.   And if you touch your nose or god forbid your eyes before you've thoroughly washed your hands--well, you won't soon forget the experience.

If you don't have a mill, seed and mince the pepper as finely as you can.  If you do have a mill, clear the room where you'll be milling the flour, and if you have a gas mask or respirator, this would be the time to get it out.  You think I'm kidding now, but the volatilized pepper dust that escapes the mill and becomes airborne when you clean the mill out triggers one heck of a coughing fit in me, and am not asthmatic.  I handle the milled pepper flour as little as possible--opening the mill and brushing it directly into the batter in the mixing bowl when it's ready--minimize the inevitable consequences.

The resulting cookies, however, are nothing like so dangerous, unless you find them addictive like I do.

***The microwave does a great job of this if you spread the stuff out on a shallow plate, and do it at medium power, stirring frequently, and stopping when it just turns palest gold.  Any saute or frying pan on the stove works too.  

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