When A. came home for Thanksgiving, she brought a recipe that she wanted to make for a friend. It was a chocolate chip meringue recipe, and the meringues were fine, I suppose, but they were awfully sweet, even after I -- hoping to counteract some of the sugar -- added some cocoa powder. I checked recipes on the web, and they were mostly very similar, though they did have a somewhat more reasonable baking method, which I adopted. The recipe A. brought asked me to preheat the oven to 375, turn it off when I put the meringues in, and then leave the meringues in the oven for thirteen hours. As this would have meant the meringues would be done after A.'s departure, I switched to 250 for an hour, followed by two hours in the oven, which also meant I could use the oven for other things.
In the past, I have often not understood the problem many people have with foods that are very sweet. It's true that I'd long ago abandoned the sea-of-corn-syrup form of pecan pie for the much less sweet pecan pie from Beat This, but while guests who have that pie for the first time marvel at how good and how much less sweet it is, it's still a very sweet dessert. A nine-inch pie will easily give you twelve servings. But I have long adored many very sweet foods, from caramel to fruit punch.
But tastes, including my own, change. These days I am more about the dry martini than the mai tai, and I will always pass up the milk chocolate for the dark. Within reason, of course. I still find that a bar of 72% chocolate can be eaten only in nibbles, over time.
So I wanted a much less sweet meringue, and when I was home alone yesterday, I set out to make one. I used more egg whites and less sugar. I used cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate, plus some orange zest. And I used Whey Low (google it if you don't know) in place of sugar. In my first try, I decided to beat the egg whites to about soft peaks and then beat in the sugar and cocoa combined, and I ended up with something which seemed like it might make a decent icing. So I tossed that and tried again, and this time the finished texture seemed just write, and I had about forty nice little clouds of meringue when I put them in the oven.
When I (finally: I'd baked them for an hour, then turned the oven off and gone out to a movie and dinner with some friends and then invited them back for pecan pie) took them out of the oven, I had flat disks. I was disappointed, but then I peeled one off the Silpat and tasted it, and I thought, "Not bad." Additional tasting and the opinions of my guests (and I must have realized they were pretty good, or I wouldn't have offered them around) ramped "not bad" up to "delicious."
I would still like to know which of the possible factors (whey low instead of sugar, not enough whey low/sugar, the presence of the orange zest, or something else) deflated my meringues, but given that I'm not willing to change any of the known possible culprits and given how good they are, I'll probably just stick with this recipe in the future. These meringues (or whatever you'd call them) have a taste that's both delicious and sophisticated. They're a perfect small cookie to serve with coffee or tea. Or probably to garnish a chocolate mousse, though in that case you might want to shape them differently.
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 t. salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 T. cocoa powder
1 t. vanilla extract
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
Zest of one orange, finely grated
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, or use a Silpat
Beat the eggs on low speed until they're frothy. Add the salt and beat to soft peaks.
While beating, gradually add the sugar and beat to stiff peaks. Beat in the cocoa powder and then the vanilla extract.
Fold in the chocolate and the orange zest.
Drop by teaspoons onto the prepared baking sheet.
Bake at 250 degrees for an hour. Turn the oven off and let the meringues sit for two more hours.
Other recipes will tell you to use mini chocolate chips. You could do that, I suppose, but it's much better to use good chocolate (I used Trader Joe's Pound Plus bittersweet for this. I didn't use the 72% chocolate, which I think would have been too much.) and to chop it yourself. It's good to have some of the chocolate still in small chunks while some of it has been reduced almost to a powder.
I mixed my orange zest in with the chocolate, but I would be happier, I think, with another method. I had to fold longer than I'd have liked to get all the zest incorporated. I think that next time I might put the zest and a tablespoon of sugar in a spice grinder and then fold the mixture in at the end. It seemed to me that all of the folding didn't deflate the meringue, at least when it went on the cookie sheets, but I could tell that the last ones I put on the sheet were softer than the first ones because I'd had to scrape the batter off the sides of the bowl a couple of times to get the last couple of cookies formed. But they all baked up the same.
I formed mine with two teaspoons. I got a heaping teaspoon of meringue in one spoon then pushed it off with the other. You can make them larger or smaller if you like, but if you get about three or three-and-a-half dozen meringues from this recipe, I think that's the ideal size.
As soon as these are out of the oven, you need to put them in a ziplock bag or a container that seals tightly. Otherwise, they will suck moisture out of the air and become sticky.