High altitude baking: Chocolate marbled meringues offer an easy, fairly healthy dessert option
High Country Baking
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.
Searching for a finale to dinner that’s low-fat and still pleasing to eat? Here’s my choice for warm weather (and it’s healthy-ish and easy to make): I start with meringues because they’re elegant enough to serve for dessert and as close to fat-free as a cookie can get. These marbled ones (my current favorites) are crunchy and mildly sweet, with just enough unsweetened chocolate to be interesting and adult. Then I pair them with the best fruit and/or berries I can find. My first choice is either ripe strawberries or fresh cherries because they can be eaten out-of-hand. If they’re unavailable, I substitute a fresh fruit dessert salad. I serve the fruit and cookies on a platter placed in the middle of the table with some small plates (and bowls and spoons if serving a salad) and invite diners to nibble at their leisure.
Meringues can be a bit of a prima donna, but if you meet their demands, they’ll cooperate fully. Here’s what they ask of you: Make them on a dry day; they don’t whip well in high humidity. They require a completely fat-free environment to thicken properly. To get one, use a clean stainless steel or glass mixing 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 rinsing it in water and drying it before starting the recipe. Use eggs that aren’t extremely fresh; they whip more easily than those straight out of the hen house. 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 before you start whipping them. Take your time as you bring them to stiff peaks; in the reduced air pressure found at high altitudes they can expand too quickly and then will collapse when the sugar is added or if too much of it is added at a time. Be sure to use superfine granulated sugar; it dissolves very quickly, keeping the meringue light and airy.
Chocolate Marbled Meringues
Make on a shiny metal cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
Yields 24 two-inch cookies
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 large egg whites, room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup superfine granulated sugar,
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees with a rack in the center position. Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke it at a low-medium temperature in your microwave (I use No. 4 out of 10) until only small lumps remain. Remove it from the oven and stir until the chocolate is completely smooth and shiny. Scrape the melted chocolate into a small zip-close plastic bag, close the bag, cut a small hole in one of the corners and push the chocolate into the cut corner. Set aside in a warm place (so the chocolate remains liquid).
2. Put the egg whites in a grease-free mixing bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat at low-medium speed until they’re quite frothy. Add the cream of tartar, raise the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form. Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and beat for at least 15 seconds before the next addition. Gradually increase the mixer speed to high while doing this. Add the vanilla after the sugar and beat until the meringue is stiff and shiny, another two to three minutes. Place the cornstarch in a sieve, sprinkle it over the top and fold it in with a grease-free silicone spatula, taking care not to deflate the meringue.
3. Gently scrape the meringue into a shallow dish or pan (I use an 8x6x2-inch glass Pyrex dish) and, without deflating it, smooth and level the top. Lightly squeezing the bag of melted chocolate, drizzle parallel lines over the top of the meringue. If your dish/pan is rectangular in shape, make the lines run parallel to its long side. Using a tablespoon, dip about ¼-inch deep into the meringue and scrape crosswise to the drizzled lines, from one side of the dish/pan to the other, creating a round of meringue, with chocolate marbled within it. Use a small spoon or your clean finger to push it from the tablespoon onto your parchment-lined cookie sheet (wetting your spoon or finger makes it slide off easily). Make more cookies, placing them about an inch apart. Drizzle more chocolate lines over the meringue whenever they’re needed and continue until all the meringue is gone.
4. Bake the cookies for an hour without opening the oven door, which could cause them to develop cracks. Then, turn off the oven but leave the cookies in it until the oven is completely cool, an additional two to three hours. Remove the pan from the oven and gently lift the meringues off the parchment paper. They’re ready to serve or store airtight in a cool, dry place. They’ll last 10 days in the dry air of the mountains and five days in a humid climate.
This recipe is a variation of one published in Peggy Cullen’s “Got Milk? The Cookie Book.” Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks Baking Above It All and Cookies in the Clouds, (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a high-altitude baking teacher. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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