Thursday, December 16, 2010

Meringues aren't for sissies anymore

For anyone with a penchant for making desserts, egg whites can be a problem, especially for those of you making eggnog (thanks to Brian at A Year From Scratch for bringing this to my attention). Egg whites can be a little sad-looking: pale and watery, robbed of their rich yolks. Sort of like what I imagine goldfish guts to look and feel like.

But egg whites are pretty magical. When I was in France, one thing that fascinated me was how every patisserie had a huge basket overflowing with meringues the size of your face. Upon further reflection, I decided that this must be a way for them to use up all those whites left over from custard-making. And consider the meringue on top of my delectable and unattainable grapefruit meringue pie--sheer baker's magic. You fluff them up, bake them, and attain a daintier thing than has ever entered your mouth before.

I used to pooh pooh meringue cookies because, well, they're low fat. But so is fruit, which I have no trouble consuming. This meringue cookie recipe is really perfect. Light but with a confident flavor, crisp on the outside, strangely chewy on the inside, punctuated by chocolate chips. They might even be appropriate for serving alongside eggnog, since anyone making eggnog isn't afraid of gilding the lily.

Mocha Meringues
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot powder
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (such as Ghirardelli)

Preheat the oven to 300. Cover two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.

Beat egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer (if you don't have either, you might be out of luck unless you've been working on your whisking arm) until they become frothy. With the mixer running, add the sugar mixture one tablespoon at a time until the whites attain firm, glossy peaks (when you lift the beaters, the whites should peak and not collapse). Add the cocoa powder and espresso and beat to combine thoroughly. You may need to scrape down your bowl once to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Place tablespoonfuls of batter on the cookie sheets about one inch apart. Bake one hour, rotating sheets once during baking, until meringues harden. Cool completely on baking sheets.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies. Smaller cookies can be made, just watch the cooking time.

You might consider trying different flavors by adding citrus zest or even pulverized tea (Earl Grey would be a good one, or if you have any matcha powder--expensive but tasty--that would be perfect).

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