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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mexican Chocolate Meringues

There is something about summer that draws me to the airy, cloud-like delight of meringues. They are a wonderfully satisfying sweet treat that stands up well to the summer heat. They can be rich and satisfying, like this recipe, or the perfect light foundation for the natural sweetness of summer fruit. Every kitchen should have one go-to meringue recipe to show off during the summer.

Last summer it was an obsession. I worked through different recipes, experimented with slight variations in technique, and generally cursed my large sized professional Kitchen Aid mixer for its inability to whip a small amount of egg whites. But I wound up with some really cut biceps from it all. Based on my experiences last year, I wasn't terribly surprised when the Chicago temperatures finally started climbing that I once again found myself with a whisk at the end of my arm and a small army of egg whites lined up to do my bidding.

Whipping egg whites to gain volume for baking is one of the most fundamental mechanical/chemical processes in baking. Which is why it surprised me to survey the field and realize how much variation there is in advice for how this essential process should happen. Some say beat for 10-15 minutes until soft peaks form. Others say you should get soft peaks in 2-3 minutes, even though both recipes are advocating using an electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk. Baking temperatures seem particularly in dispute. 225 for 60-90 minutes. Others say 250 for 50-60 minutes. Others 260 for a mere 30 minutes. Others go as high as 300 degrees F. Here I have opted for a middle of the road technique that combines some moderate heating, to perfect that delightful interior, with a slight raise in temperature at the end to achieve a crisp outer shell.

Mexican Chocolate Meringues

By The Skinny Gourmet (E. McDonnell)

3 egg whites, room temperature
pinch cream of tartar
1/2 cup powdered sugar or superfine granulated
pinch salt
3/4 teaspoon Mexican vanilla extract (okay to sub regular vanilla extract)
3 Tablespoons dark chocolate chips, chopped
3/4-1 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably korintje

Preheat oven to 285 F.

Make sure your bowl and whisk are clean from any residue of fats. You may want to wet a paper towel with some white vinegar and wipe down the surfaces of both. If using a regular metal cookie sheet, line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Separate whites from yolks, taking care that none of the yolks contaminate the whites, for fats in the whites will deflate the volume. You may want to separate the eggs while still cool, because they separate better while cold. Then allow the egg whites to reach room temperature, because warmer egg whites will achieve better volume.

Add the pinch of cream of tartar to the egg-whites. Begin whipping egg whites with a wire whisk or the wire whisk attachment of your mixer. Using a mixer will work best if the wire whisk attachment actually touches within a 1/4 inch of the bottom of your bowl. Otherwise I prefer to use a hand mixer rather than a stand mixer.

Whip on an even speed, beginning with a medium speed and gradually increasing speed as small bubbles form in the egg whites and they begin to turn opaque and increase in volume.

This recipe uses powdered sugar, but you may also use regular white sugar that has been processed in a food processor to superfine granules. Mix the pinch of salt in with the sugar. Keep whisking and add sugar a small amount at a time, allowing the previous addition to incorporate fully before adding more. This will prevent the structure of the whites from collapsing beneath the weight of a lot of sugar added at once.

Once the egg whites have reached a stable stiff peaks form, generously sprinkle the cinnamon across the top of the egg whites and add the Mexican vanilla extract. Whisk briefly just to incorporate. The alcohol in the extract will slightly deflate the egg whites, so you want to minimize whisking time after the extract is added.

Stop whisking. Gently fold in the chocolate chips.

If using a pastry bag, gently scoop meringue into pastry bag and pipe onto a parchment lined cookie sheet or a well seasoned baking stone. If not using a pastry bag, gently dollop with a tablespoon.

The number of meringues that you get out of this recipe will depend both on your success in getting volume out of the egg whites and the size of meringues you want to make. I got about a dozen larger sized meringues out of this recipe, which would translate into 24-30 smaller meringues. Be mindful that cooking times will vary substantially depending on the size of your meringues, so it is always best to be safe and check them vigilantly for signs of readiness.

Bake at 285 F for 30-40 minutes. Raise temp to 300 for the last ten minutes. Meringues are ready when the exterior is slightly firm and does not collapse under a gentle touch. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container for 5-7 days.


Anonymous said...

These things look good enough for me to bite my screen. I just bought my egg white separator so I am good to go!

Sharon said...

Since I spent so much money on my KitchenAid I don't have a hand mixer. In the past, I have run into the same issue of not having enough eggs to whip properly. Your recipe inspires me to try again! Yum.

Kirby! said...

Way cool use of Mexican vanilla! I had it in homemade cookies a few months ago and was really surprised by what a big difference it makes. And of course, meringues are the cookies of the summer... you can eat 5 and not pooch out of a bathing suit! WOOT!

Noor said...

Oh wow this looks amazing and I can not wait to try it. I am so happy that I found your blog. I hope that you can check mine out as well.


Anonymous said...

whipping egg whites is not a fun thing...i've always done it by hand and the important thing is not to break your whipping pattern--ugh.. talk about biceps indeed. yours looks so pretty; i never it make it as far as putting them in the oven as I eat the meringue right out of the mixing bowl!

Astra Libris said...

Ohhhh, I adore Mexican vanilla!! It's absolutely the best! Your meringues sound like the perfect way to highlight the delights of Mexican vanilla, too... they're positively gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

Chocolate and cinnamon... what a totally irresistible combination. These make me want to start separating eggs on the spot. :) The yolks will be great for another semifreddo, right?

Leslie said...

looks yummy! I think I'll give 'em a try tonight! thanks.

joydavenport said...

I found your blog from a "chocolate meringe" google search... and I wonder if you tried with melted chocolate instead of cocoa powder? Was there any difference, either in taste or fluffy-ness? thanks -

Erin said...

Joydavenport: I have not tried to make them with melted chocolate. I went with cocoa powder because egg whites are always very delicate in the face of fats, and my sense was that the fats were more available for chemical interaction in the melted chocolate than in the dried cocoa powder. But this is just me playing armchair alton brown. I can't be sure. If you give it a try with real melted chocolate I would love to hear about the results!

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