Fun with Egg Whites

Holiday brunch here on Sunday: eight grownups ready to settle in for the early part of the afternoon, an assortment of kids from toddler to tween to young adult, food in fridge and freezer hitting critical mass.  I’ll post the final menu after we clean up.  I think you’ll like it; it’s a good one.

Until then, I have one more holiday cookie recipe to share with you.

On Wednesday, while I was separating eggs for a Chocolate Souffle Cake, I thought of a pretty meringue-style cookie I spotted in the holiday issue of Food and Wine while I was riding the train down to New York.  The recipe, Chocolate-Hazelnut Clouds with Cocoa Nibs, called for beaten egg whites, something I was already working with to make the chocolate cake.   It seemed a perfect time to beat a few more whites into meringue and test out the “clouds.”  Except I had no cocoa nibs, an ingredient which, the magazine promised, would add crunch to an otherwise light and puffy cookie.

I did, however, have toffee bits, another crunchy ingredient.  I thought these might substitute, making a different but still delicious cookie.  Once the cake was out of the oven and cooling, I began tweaking the recipe, adding some ingredients and omitting others, then crossed my fingers, and gave my take on the recipe a try.

In flavor and texture, there’s a lot going on in these cookies: at first bite, as light and airy as promised, but then the delicate outer shell yields to a crunch of toasted hazelnuts and toffee before finishing with a slightly sticky nougat-like center.  Then somehow all these different textures just melt away in your mouth.  With this cookie, you’ll amaze and delight the people you bake for, always fun and satisfying for a baker.  I think surprise is a wonderful element in a cookie.

Nougat Meringue Cookies

  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp. toffee bits (without chocolate)
  • 2 Tbsp. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

First toast the whole hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 10 – 15 minutes.  Wrap the hot hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub them together to remove most of the skins.  Let the nuts cool and then chop them coarsely using a rotary nut chopper, or a knife if you don’t have a chopper.

Next, using the same rotary nut chopper, coarsely chop the semisweet chips.  Set aside.

Reduce the oven heat to 300 degrees.  Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

Stir together in a small bowl the cocoa, cornstarch, chopped chocolate and toffee bits.  Set aside.

In a medium size bowl, beat the egg whites together with the cream of tartar and salt using an electric mixer.  Beat until soft peaks form.  Add the sugar to the egg whites very gradually and then beat until the egg whites form stiff and glossy peaks.  Beat in the vanilla.

Fold the nut mixture into the egg whites gently.

There will be some white streaks in the batter, don’t combine thoroughly.

Use a small ice cream scoop and scoop level mounds onto the prepared baking sheets, 12 mounds per sheet.

You should get about 23 or 24 cookies total.

Place the sheets in the preheated oven.  Bake for about 15 minutes then shift the racks, moving the one in the top third to the lower third, and the lower to the upper.  Bake for another 15 minutes.

Cookies should take about 30 minutes total.  The outside will feel like a crisp shell and feel firm when tapped.

When done, transfer the baking sheets to two cooling racks.  Cool the cookies completely before removing and serving.  Store in a dry container.

©2011  Jane A. Ward