What’s a Valentine’s Day without a little bit of indulgence, particularly of the chocolate sort? This cacao-nib infused Manhattan is every bit as decadent as a box of chocolates, but without taking a hard left turn to candy town. No chocolate syrup, or sugar, or cream in this recipe — just the pure and subtle flavor of the cacao nib, layered over spicy rye and sweet vermouth.
I’ve always found that chocolate pairs particularly well with Manhattans. After all, they’re classically garnished with either a cherry or an orange peel, and both of those fruits are well known friends of chocolate (anyone who shares my sweet tooth has probably experienced the wonders of chocolate covered cherries or candied orange slices dipped in dark chocolate).
So instead of serving a Manhattan with a side of dark chocolate (still highly recommend), this time we’re cutting out the middleman and getting that cacao goodness right in the glass. And because a classic Manhattan is so perfect to begin with, we’re not going to go crazy and add anything creamy or sugary. We’re simply going to make a quick, one hour countertop infusion with pure cacao nibs, no fancy equipment needed.
If you’ve never used cacao nibs before, you might just find yourself throwing them into everything from now on — I eat them on ice cream, in baked goods, and even occasionally tossed into salads. Nibs are just crushed up bits of roasted and fermented cacao beans, or in other words, chocolate that hasn’t been ground and mixed with sugar yet. They have an intense chocolate flavor without any of the sweetness. You’ll likely find them in the health food section of a good grocery store (I’ve seen them at Whole Foods, Wegmans, New Seasons, and Fred Meyer), because they’re so popular for smoothies and acai bowls. NBD, they’re also jam packed with with fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants, some of which are going to end up in your glass. Score!
Now, let’s talk about the garnish. Since the drink itself is so easy to make (and it is a holiday after all), I highly recommend spending an extra few minutes with one of my favorite kitchen tools: the brûlée torch. Brûléeing fruit takes all of thirty seconds, and transforms a regular piece of produce into something magical. Just sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over your fruit slice, then hit it with the torch (ideally in a smooth, figure eight pattern for larger fruits like grapefruit, which is perfect for brunch). Pro tip: your life will be much easier if you get a high output torch like this one. There’s nothing worse than trying to brûlée with a dinky torch, which feels about as effective as using a candle.
This recipe makes two cocktails because, ya know, Valentine’s Day is for lovers and all. But trust me, these are just as good enjoyed with your bestie, or with your dog — in which case, you get to drink both. That’s a holiday win, if you ask me.
- 4 oz rye (Rittenhouse preferred)
- 2 oz Carpano Antica vermouth
- 4 dashes angostura bitters
- 1 tbsp cacao nibs
- 1 strip organic orange peel, pith (white part) removed
- Combine all in a small jar. Cover and let sit on the countertop (out of direct sunlight) for one hour, swirling occasionally.
- Strain into a chilled mixing pitcher filled with ice. Stir until well chilled, then strain into two chilled coupes. Garnish with bruleed fruit, or a brandied cherry.