As part of my Q&A with Chicago pastry chef and cookbook author Mindy Segal, I asked her about the incongruity between her insistence on premium ingredients and her devotion to Folger’s Instant Coffee Crystals. She laughed.

“Isn’t that weird?” she said. “Don’t ask me how that got into my kitchen. It must have been my staff, they must have been using it for their coffee in the morning. I think I was making shortbread, and I added it in, thinking it would dissolve. But it didn’t. So I threw the dough into the cooler. The next day, I took it out, and wow, it had marbled. Eureka, right? I mean, how cool is this, right? So that’s where that started. You never know where you’re going to find inspiration.”

The ingredient plays a key role in the beautiful meringues Segal calls “Best Friends Cookies” (photo, above, by Dan Goldberg).

Here’s what she writes about the recipe:

“When I rode a motorcycle, I’d head up to Milwaukee on a day off and stop at Fuel Cafe. It was there that I encountered a malted espresso drink. I already loved both malt and coffee, and there they were together, the malt balancing the harshness of the coffee. I had discovered best friends in the flavor department. Now I use this combination all the time.

“Adding a spoonful of caramel sauce to the milk chocolate hot fudge is optional, but if you have some left over from another recipe, use it. It cranks up the malt and rounds out the coffee even more. These cookies are great alongside ice cream.”

BEST FRIENDS COOKIES

Makes about 20 cookies.

Note: From “Cookie Love” by Mindy Segal (Ten Speed Press, $24.99). “Adding a spoonful of caramel sauce to the milk chocolate hot fudge is optional, but if you have some left over from another recipe, use it. It cranks up the malt and rounds out the coffee even more.” When making the hot fudge sauce, light corn syrup can be substituted for barley malt syrup. When making the caramel sauce, and using kosher salt or fine sea salt instead of light sea salt flakes, cut the amount in half. “You can always add more as needed,” writes Segal.  Use the additional caramel sauce and hot fudge on ice cream, or in other baking recipes; Segal uses it as the filling in her version of Milanos.

For hot fudge:

3 c. heavy cream

1 c. malted milk powder

1 c. cane sugar

2 tbsp. barley malt syrup

6 oz. milk chocolate, broken into pieces

1 tbsp. kosher salt

1/4 c. (2 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. brewed coffee (optional)

For caramel sauce:

4 c. heavy cream

3 c. granulated sugar, divided

3/4 c. light corn syrup

1 tbsp. sea salt flakes

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For meringue:

2 egg whites, at room temperature

1 c. firmly packed light brown sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 tbsp. instant coffee crystals, such as Folgers

1/2 tsp. coffee extract (optional)

To prepare hot fudge: In a heavy pot (6-quart or larger) over medium-high heat, warm the cream. Whisk in malted milk powder and stir until dissolved. Add sugar and syrup and stir until dissolved, approximately 3 minutes. Add chocolate and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook at a gentle simmer so that the bubbles percolate in the center of the pot. Cook, stirring periodically to avoid scorching the bottom, until the mixture thickens but before the oils separate from the solids, about 26 to 32 minutes. Whisk in butter, vanilla extract and coffee (if using) thoroughly (you can also use an immersion blender). Remove from heat and let cool. (Recipe makes roughly 4 cups; cookie recipe requires 1/2 cup. Hot fudge can be refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for up to 6 months).

To prepare caramel sauce: In a high-sided pot over medium heat, warm cream to just before boiling. Remove from heat and keep warm.

In a heavy pot (6-quart or larger) over medium-high heat, combine 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and the corn syrup. Melt sugar, stirring occasionally, until sugar and syrup start to boil. Continue to cook until sugar turns a rich amber color but before it becomes nearly black, about 6 to 8 minutes. (If the sugar starts to smoke and turn black, it’s burned; start over). Reduce heat to very low. In three stages, stir in remaining 1 ½ cups sugar, stirring between each addition to dissolve the sugar before adding more.

Increase heat to the point at which small bubble start to foam up around the sides of the pot. In three stages, add the warm cream, simmering to partially reduce it between each addition before adding more. The caramel will buttle up vigorously; stir to keep it from boiling over. Continue to cook the caramel until it forms a thick syrup. (If you draw a finger through the caramel coating the back of the spoon, it will hold the line). Turn the heat off and season with the salt and vanilla extract. Remove from heat and cool completely. (Recipe makes roughly 4 cups; cookie recipe requires 1 tablespoon. Caramel sauce can be refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for up to 6 months).   

To prepare chocolate swirl: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1/2 cup Hot Fudge Sauce (see recipe) until lighter in color, about 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon Caramel Sauce (see recipe) and mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer mixture to a bowl and reserve at room temperature while preparing meringue.

To prepare meringue: Preheat oven to 275 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a double boiler over gently simmering water, whisk together egg whites, sugar and salt. Warm egg white mixture, whisking often, to a temperature of a scalding bath, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and dry bottom of pan or bowl with a kitchen towel.

Transfer warmed egg white mixture to a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. On medium-high speed, whip egg white mixture until whites have cooled and meringue is thick and shiny, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add instant coffee and vanilla extract and whip just to combine, about 10 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold hot fudge mixture into meringue to form swirls. (The chocolate needs to be incorporated enough so that it doesn’t bleed out of the cookies as they bake but not so incorporated that the meringue loses the swirl completely.

Using 2 spoons, portion meringue into 1 1/2- to 2-inch blobs, spacing cookies about 2 inches apart. Bake for 2 hours. Turn off oven and let cookies cool in the oven to dry out completely, at least 1 hour or overnight. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, depending upon the room’s humidity level.

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