Meringues and Easter go together like, well, eggs and Easter.
This cookie recipe dates to a 2004 Taste profile of pastry chef Michelle Gayer. I watched her prepare them in the kitchen at the Franklin Street Bakery (since then, she's opened her own shop, the Salty Tart, and she's still occasionally making meringues). I've been pulling out this foolproof recipe ever since, especially around Easter.
There are so many reasons to love these festive, luxurious-looking cookies. One: They're incredibly easy to make, with just four ingredients. Even better, there are no decorating skills required; the oven does all the design work. Two: The texture is incredible, with a glossy, slightly crispy shell that collapses into a moist, airy interior filled with naughty amounts of chocolate (Two-and-a-half: Bake them for kids, and quiz them, 'How does the chocolate all gravitate to the center of the cookie?). Three: They're packed with chocolate, boasting both a mild cocoa tang and a sharper, richer and slightly gooey chocolate bite, depending upon the type used (I prefer a mix of bittersweet and semi-sweet). Four: They've got great curb appeal, with their shiny tan outer shells cracked to reveal darker, bubbled interiors. Five: They're gluten-free, and even for those of us who don't stick to a gluten-free diet, isn't it nice to occasionally encounter a lighter, flour-free cookie?
I tend to make them almost absurdly big (think small cupcake), dividing the batter with an ice cream scoop and baking all of the batter off in a single batch of a dozen. They'll work just as well if you're more judicious with the batter; heaping tablespoons will yield roughly 20 cookies.
The secret behind a voluminous meringue -- isn't the egg white one of the kitchen's most miraculous ingredients? -- is buying the freshest possible organic, free-range eggs available. I buy from Harmony Organics (available at the Wedge Co-op and Seward Co-op in Minneapolis), a farm near Faribault, Minn., which produces eggs so rich in essential nutrients that the whites practically double in volume the moment they come within contact my KitchenAid mixer's whisk attachment. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea: great ingredients yield great results.
For an extra-chocolate burst, Gayer drizzles the cooled meringues with melted chocolate. I didn't do that here -- I ran out of chocolate, which nearly qualifies as a felony in my kitchen -- but you know what? They're just as good without that finishing touch.
Makes 1 to 2 dozen.
Note: For chocolate chips, pastry chef Michelle Gayer uses any leftover chocolate pieces, in any combination: bittersweet, semi-sweet, unsweetened and white chocolate. If using a convection oven, bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Granulated sugar can be substituted for superfine sugar, but the latter produces a more supple meringue. Superfine sugar is designed to dissolve almost instantly; you can make your own by pulsing granulated sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
1/2 c. egg whites (from about 4 eggs)
1 c. superfine sugar
2 1/2 tbsp. sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 c. chopped chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a double boiler over gently boiling water, combine egg whites and sugar and simmer, whisking occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Pour mixture into bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip egg-white mixture on medium speed for 5 minutes, then increase to medium-high speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until mixture is stiff but not dry. Using a rubber spatula, fold cocoa into egg-white mixture until well incorporated, then fold in chocolate chips. Place heaping tablespoons of batter onto prepared baking sheets. Bake 18 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Remove from oven and cool cookies on baking sheets until ready to serve. Store in a single layer in an airtight container for up to 1 day.
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