Monday, November 17, 2008


[Picture here. Eventually. I promise. No, really.]

Last weekend was the somethingth annual church bazaar. I'm really not much of a joiner, but if someone thinks to ask me to do something, I'll usually do it because a) I want to help out, and b) it's just easier to accept than to say no. This policy has its drawbacks, of course: I once spent three years as church treasurer, and, in retrospect, saying no would probably have been less work. But all anyone asked me to do this year was to make something edible, so I decided to try out a few things for the bake sale. I didn't remember to take pictures of any of them, though, so I'll probably only post the other recipes if I make them again, which means that you'll likely be seeing yet another lebkuchen post. I had thought that the lebkuchen I made last year couldn't be beat, but I think this year's were even better. The recipe really wasn't all that different, though. I made some minor adjustments in the spice mixture, but mostly I just used significantly less flour than in the past and made the lebkuchen as drop cookies. This requires a very special technique where you run your hand under cold water and then use it to flatten the cookies, and you may not want to try that without an advanced degree from a culinary institute or, in the alternative, some experience playing with children and Play-Do, but, well, I digress.

I really wanted to make some meringues this year. I'd tried, a month or two ago, several batches of meringues with a chocolate and orange flavoring, and the results were tasty, but they were also flat and chewy where I wanted them to be crispy and puffy. I had hypothesized that the problem was either that I was using too little sugar or the wrong kind of sugar. So this time I used more sugar, and I used regular granulated sugar. And the meringues came out just right, but I also used a little bit of cream of tartar this time, and that's more likely why they came out just right. Anyway, the meringues were very tasty, and they weren't oppressively sweet, so maybe I'll just stick with this recipe.

"Omms" is, obviously, an abbreviation of "orange mocha meringues." I joked, when I was working the bake sale table on Saturday, that the cookies are so named because they inspire meditation. I'm not sure this is at all true as they are more likely to induce excitement than calm, but it's a good name, right? You can go further, if you like, by abbreviating "orange mocha meringues, mmm" into "ommmmms," but then people might thing you were being silly, even if the cookies are very tasty, which they are.

Orange Mocha Meringues

4 egg whites
1/4 t. cream of tartar
1 cup + 1/4 cup sugar
The finely grated zest of one orange
4 T. cocoa powder
1 T. instant coffee
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 T. finely chopped candied orange peel

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment, or use Silpats.

You will want your egg whites to be as close to room temperature as possible, but you don't want them to sit out for long periods of time. I generally separate my egg whites, put them in a bowl, and put the bowl over a saucepan of water that is as hot as the tap will make it. Then I let them sit while I assemble the rest of my ingredients. They probably don't make it to room temperature before I start beating them, but it's better than nothing.

Combine the 1/4 cup sugar, the cocoa powder, the orange zest, and the instant coffee in your coffee or spice grinder and grind until fine. You are doing this mostly to grind the instant coffee up. If you have access to instant espresso powder and your orange zest is already very finely grated, then you can just combine the ingredients and reserve them. Putting them through the grinder also turns your sugar into instant dissolving sugar, which is nice but probably not essential.

Put the egg whites into the bowl of your mixer and turn the mixer on low. Add the cream of tartar and beat until the eggs are foamy, then increase the speed to high. When the egg whites look like they're reaching the soft peaks stage, gradually beat in the 1 cup of sugar, and continue beating the egg whites to the stiff peaks stage. You can, by the way, do all of this by hand, which is a good idea if (and only if) you hope to compete on Top Chef some day.

Turn the mixer off and verify that you've got stiff peaks. Then turn the mixer on low and add the cocoa/sugar/coffee/orange zest mixture. Mix very briefly. You want to get the mixture mostly incorporated into the egg whites, but you don't want to overbeat them. Fold the chopped chocolate and candied orange peel into the meringue mixture. This will also finish mixing in the cocoa mixture.

Using two teaspoons, drop heaping teaspoonsful of the meringue onto the prepared baking sheets. You can put them relatively close together, but leave a little room since they will likely spread a tiny bit during baking. I can get about thirty-five of them on a half-sheet pan, but since I can't get them all on one pan, I typically get about thirty on one pan and fifteen on the second. Whatever works for you. Similarly, you can make them larger or smaller if you like.

Put the trays in the oven and bake at 300 degrees for forty-five minutes. Turn off the oven. Ideally, you'll leave the meringues in until they cool, which will take several hours. If you need to bake something else afterwards, leave them in for as long as you can, then take them out and let them finish cooling. As soon as they're cool, peel them off the parchment/Silpat and store them in an airtight container. I used large ziplock bags and then transferred them to some printed cello bags that I got at the dollar store (25 for a buck: what a deal!)

I made two batches of the meringues, and I only added the finely chopped candied orange peel to the second batch. The first batch was very nice, but I found the orange flavor a bit too subtle for my tastes. I still wanted to sell both batches, though, so when I packaged them for sale, I filled each bag with half pre-peel and half post-peel meringues. Otherwise, I figured I'd have complicated labeling and marketing issues, possibly leading to fisticuffs when some members learned they didn't have candied orange peel while others did, and, well, fighting in church should probably be discouraged, in spite of its obvious entertainment value. Besides, the meringues might get crushed, and that would be a bad thing.