High Altitude Baking: Coffee meringue cookies (flourless, low-fat recipe)
March 21, 2016
High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
A guilt-free cookie — how wonderful is that? This crunchy, light, coffee-flavored confection, made of egg whites, instant espresso powder and a little sugar, is as close to fat-free as you can get. Even after a dip in melted chocolate, it remains virtuous, so nibble with a clear conscience.
With so few ingredients, you'd think making it would be a no-brainer, but meringues can be tricky. They require a completely fat-free environment to thicken properly. To get one, use a clean stainless steel bowl and avoid plastic utensils, (plastic is porous and can hold fat from previous uses even after a washing). Consider rubbing your equipment with mild vinegar (I use rice vinegar) to assure all fat residue is removed, and then rinse it in clear water before starting the recipe.
Also, make sure there isn't even a speck of yolk in your egg whites and that they're at room temperature or even a little warmer. Take your time beating them; in our altitude's reduced air pressure, they can expand too quickly and collapse when the sugar is added or if too much of it is added at a time.
Coffee meringues (flourless and low fat)
½ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker's
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1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
2 large egg whites, room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
A little less than ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate glaze (optional)
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 to 3 teaspoons canola oil
Step 1: Heat oven to 225 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick foil (nonstick side up). Put the granulated sugar and espresso powder in a small bowl, and whisk to blend.
Step 2: Combine the room-temperature egg whites and cream of tartar in a deep bowl, and with a mixer on low-medium speed, beat until the whites absorb all the cream of tartar, become very frothy and form a thick foam.
Step 3: Increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until the mixture starts to thicken, holds beater marks and is opaque. Slowly, a teaspoon or two at a time, add the sugar-espresso mixture, beating at least 30 seconds after each addition, until the mixture holds beater marks again. Continue until the mixture is very thick and holds stiff peaks.
Step 4: Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag with a ½-inch star tip, or use a spoon to create 1¼ -inch mounds about an inch apart on the lined cookie sheet.
Step 5: Bake until the meringues are dry, hold their shape when pressed gently and no longer stick to the pan liner. Start checking after an hour in the oven. To prevent the cookies from developing cracks, don't open the oven door until near the end of the baking time. Turn the oven off, and leave the cookies in it for another hour.
Step 6: Cool the cookies, on the pan, on a rack. Gently remove them from the pan (if they stick, they're underdone; return them to the oven). Glaze or store them, in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place for a week.
Step 7: Optional glaze: Melt the chopped chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave (30-second bursts at low-medium temperature) until almost smooth. Add 1 teaspoon oil, and stir until completely smooth and shiny. Cool slightly, and continue to add oil, if necessary, until a teaspoon of the mixture mounds for several seconds when dropped into the bowl from a spoon.
Step 8: Dip the bottom or top (your choice) of each meringue into the chocolate, shake gently so any extra chocolate falls back into the bowl, and place on parchment paper (reuse the sheet they were baked on) or a silicone mat until the glaze is set. (To speed up the process, slide the cookies, on the parchment or mat, onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate.) Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for a week.
Makes 24, 2-inch cookies.
Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook "Cookies in the Clouds" (available at The Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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