Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. 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 to make baking in the mountains successful. Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude.It’s January … the month of dietary repentance. Confession after confession has a similar ring: “I indulged … I indulged some more … and I overindulged.” The requests for absolution are repetitive as well: “Save me with food that is light and that is low in calories.”This pretty little cookie is an answer to the prayers of the satiated. It is so light it almost disappears when you bite into it, leaving just a wisp of cocoa flavor and a moment of a crispy-chewy texture. It contains no fat and less that 20 calories per cookie. Tell me that’s not heaven.You can form these delightful meringue morsels with a pastry bag but if you don’t want to, simply drop them on the cookie sheet with a spoon, forming a nice shape. They will look inviting and taste the same either way.While it’s not a major problem in the Colorado High Country, don’t bake these cookies on a humid day – the meringues can be difficult if there is a lot of humidity in the air.
Sweet Nothings(Makes about 2 dozen; the recipe can be doubled successfully)Ingredients2 large egg whites, at room temperature1/2 cup of powdered sugar
1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar1 1/2teaspoon plus 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, preferably superfine (If you don’t have superfine sugar, make some by processing regular granulated sugar in a food processor until it is as fine as sand)Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Don’t grease the pan; it will cause the cookies to spread.Combine the powdered sugar and cocoa in a small bowl and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Check your mixing bowl to make sure it is grease-free. If it isn’t the egg whites won’t beat properly. Choose a stainless steel or porcelain bowl; plastic bowls hold grease and fat even after they have been washed well. If you aren’t sure if your bowl is grease-free, rub it and the beaters of your electric mixer with a little mild vinegar.
Put the room-temperature egg whites in the bowl, and using the medium speed (no higher) of your electric mixer, beat them until they are quite frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat at medium speed another thirty seconds or so.Slowly add the one and a half teaspoons of granulated sugar. When soft peaks start to form (as you raise the beaters), slowly add another one and a half teaspoons of granulated sugar (from the quarter cup of sugar) and increase the mixer speed to high.When stiff peaks form, gradually add the remaining granulated sugar and continue to beat until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Stop beating and remove the bowl from the mixer.Sift or strain the cocoa-confectioner’s sugar mixture over the meringue and fold it in quickly with a large whisk or spatula until it is thoroughly combined.If you are using a pastry bag, fit it with a large open star tip and spoon the meringue into it. Make rosettes, spaced about an inch apart on the parchment covered baking sheet. If you aren’t using a pastry bag, use the same spacing and drop tablespoons of the mixture onto the baking sheet.Let the cookies sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to dry a bit. They are ready to go in the oven when the meringue remains intact when you gently touch it with your finger.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, with a rack in the middle position. If you are in a hurry and willing to risk having cracks in some of the cookies, you can bake them at 300 degrees.Bake the cookies until they are almost firm to the touch but not set completely through. If you are using a 200-degree oven, start checking at about 30 minutes. If you are using a 300-degree oven, start checking at about 14 minutes. It may take considerably longer to bake the meringues, depending on the size of the cookies and the dryness of the day. To prevent cracks in them, try not to open the oven door during the first half of the cooking time.Remove the cookies to a cooling rack. After a few minutes, pull the parchment paper, with the cookies on it, off the baking sheet and let it sit on a counter. Remove the cookies from the parchment when they are completely cooled. The inspiration for this cookie comes from a recipe in Rose’s Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy BeranbaumIf your business or organization would like to sample and review a baked good for inclusion in the Life Is Sweet column, please contact Vera Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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