1: Okay, one question: What did Casper eat? Yes, the friendly ghost.
2: Well, yeah, he ate those white Styrofoam packing peanuts. Right?
3: No, that’s not what he ate.
1: Ok - then what did he eat?
3: Meringue. He ate meringue.
2: You mean like Baked Alaska?
3: Yes, Baked Alaska for instance. Ghosts eat that. That’s why the Titanic went down because of all the Baked Alaska they were serving to the passengers – it took them too close to the spirit world. It’s ghost food.
Meringue can be tricky to work with but there are always some beautiful moments in its preparation – owing perhaps to its delectability to the other side, or not.
I recently made cookies with a meringue base that were light with air, sweet with cane juice and filled with melting away dulce de leche and three variations on chocolate ganache.
Meringue is air, air held together by tiny strands of egg whites. With their minute white points and billowing bottoms, they are as ghosts visiting from beyond. A cookie made with meringue is like a sweet little edible cloud. Cloud cookies.
There comes a moment in the preparation of a proper meringue cookie when the egg whites, already stiff with air, are forcefully whisked into a sugar emulsion. This moment is magic. The buoyant whites become stretched and glossy with the sugar. What was bubbles transforms into a sleek translucent sheen. Ordinary egg whites give way to shiny candy skinned foam.
Here is the recipe for the cookies (adapted from a recipe in Gourmet Mag):
6 oz sliced blanched almonds (not slivered – the skins must be removed;
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar (if you can get raw confectioners sugar – it will be tastier but the cookies will be brown, not pink but this can be compensated for with a simple sugar, water and dye icing)
3 large egg whites
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Red or pink food coloring
For chocolate ganache
3 oz good bittersweet chocolate – chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon softened butter
Various flavoring can be used such as almond extract, strawberry syrup, etc. – just a dab will do ya
For Dulce de Leche
1 cup Good quality dulce – or bake a can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of water in the over for an hour on high heat – let cool before opening
½ cup natural cream cheese
¼ cup confectioners sugar
To Make Cookies:
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using a food processor, process almonds with 1/2 cup confectioners sugar until the mixture is a very fine crumb. Sift in and mix with the remaining cup of confectioners sugar in a bowl.
Beat egg whites with salt in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Here comes the magic party - add the granulated sugar, a little at a time, beating, then increase speed to high and continue to beat until whites just hold stiff, glossy peaks. If using white confectioners sugar (don’t bother if using the raw sugar) add a drop or two of food coloring to the desired shade and mix at low speed until evenly combined.
Stir almond mixture into meringue until completely incorporated. (Meringue will deflate.)
Spoon batter into bag, pressing out excess air, and snip off 1 corner of plastic bag to create a 1/4-inch opening. Twist bag firmly just above batter, then pipe peaked mounds of batter (the size of a chocolate kiss) onto lined sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart.
Let cookies stand, uncovered, at room temperature until tops are no longer sticky and a light crust forms, 20 to 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until crisp and edges are just slightly darker, 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool completely on sheets on racks, about 30 minutes.
Melt chocolate with cream in a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water or in top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. (Bowl should not touch water.) Remove bowl from heat, then add butter, stirring until butter is melted. Separate into individual small batches, each to be flavored with a drop or two of your favorite flavorings (e.g., almond extract). Let stand at room temperature until cooled completely and slightly thickened.
Make Dulce de Leche filling:
Mix dulce de leche with cream cheese and sweeten with confectioners sugar to taste. Assemble cookies:Carefully peel cookies from parchment (they will be fragile). Sandwich a thin layer of ganache or ducle filling (about 1/2 teaspoon) between flat sides of cookies.
I think these cookies are better the second day. The resting time allows the moisture from the fillings to permeate the crisp cookie, softening it and making it tender with a slightly wet sweetness.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.