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Winter sweets

March 1, 2010

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a baker. It just isn’t what moves me in the kitchen. But lately, I think I’ve been in search of a little sweetness. I currently have the following in my kitchen: spice cake cupcakes with orange sour cream frosting, the lovely almond cake I mentioned several weeks ago, and chocolate meringue cookies in the shape of stars. This may not be a good omen for the onset of bare skin season.

Chocolate meringue cookies

Here at the tail end of winter (is this too optimistic?), when the light is slowly coming back, but real spring warmth is still a ways away, sweets have been appealing. Maybe it’s the warmth of the oven. Whatever it is, here I am with a kitchen full of sugar, eggs, and butter. Learning new things like that cakes can be held together with 8 egg yolks and not much else, and that egg whites and sugar are actually magic together, really. I’m getting sort of a kick out of this all right now.

And so, while the photo is not going to win any prizes, I am really quite proud of the chocolate meringues here. Meringue is picky. Apparently, you shouldn’t make it on a humid day, you must not get even a tiny bit of yolk in with the whites, you have to beat them to the proper stiffness or they won’t hold their shape… the list goes on. Do you see what I mean? This is definitely not my style. How ridiculously fussy can you get?

However, these little things are crisp and light and full of chocolate flavor. They sound like chalk when they knock against each other on the plate. They’re tiny and sweet and I honestly can’t believe I spent last night piping meringue stars through a pastry bag that I actually bought specially for these. It might be an illness. I can’t explain it. But nevertheless, here I am, in need of some sweetness. And you, dear reader, get a meringue recipe. Enjoy.

Chocolate meringue stars

Adapted from a Gourmet magazine recipe from 2007 and found here. I have simplified the recipe significantly, most notably by sticking to one flavor, chocolate, and by not gilding the lily via dipping them in melted chocolate. I do have my limits, after all. Instead of the cream of tartar noted below, I actually added a splash of vinegar. I read somewhere that this will stabilize the whites in the same way as the cream of tartar which I did not have in my cabinet. This could be complete fiction for all I know, so I stuck to the original recipe for you in that regard. I am not an expert here, so if you are, by all means, adapt this to suit your taste.

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch cream of tartar
3/4 c. superfine granulated sugar
6 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 200°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.Sift cocoa powder through a fine, mesh sieve and combine with two tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside.

Beat egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar, a pinch of salt, and vanilla. Beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks. Add superfine sugar, one spoon at a time and increase the speed to high. Continue beating until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks.  Fold in cocoa mixture gently.

Spoon meringue into a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch star tip on the end. Try not to squeeze it while you’re doing this. Pipe stars onto parchment paper; mine were just about an inch in diameter. Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, switching positions of the baking sheets in the oven half-way through until meringues are dry and crisp. They should pull away from the parchment paper easily when they’re done. (Except that they’re not done yet!) Turn off the oven and leave the meringues in there to cool as the oven cools down. I left mine overnight. In the morning, I had delicately crisp meringue for breakfast.

And by the way, these would taste just as nice without the fancy star tip. Just plop spoonfulls of the stuff onto the baking sheet and enjoy unshaped. The pastry bag and frosting tip (is that even what those things are called?) just may be what makes these over the top for me but you’ll have your own opinion.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Pat Boggs permalink
    March 2, 2010 9:12 am

    I think the photograph is beautiful. As with the meringues, less is more.
    As you have previously commented that you don’t appreciate the chemistry of baking, you lucked out with the substitution. Acid, as in cream of tartar or vinegar, is the stabilizer.
    Check your copy of On Food and Cooking…

  2. Joyce permalink
    March 2, 2010 4:17 pm

    Love this post! Your chocolate stars are gorgeous. I made meringues last week for a little dinner party and realized that they are the perfect dessert for guests: simple, impressive, and delicious!

    I use neither stabilizer (just egg whites, sugar, and a little vanilla) nor pastry bag and get floppy puffs. Then I smother them in whipped cream and blueberry syrup made by boiling down frozen blueberries with brown sugar.

    You can also float them in a liquid custard for “oeufs a la neige.”

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