"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
I have an ongoing fantasy in my life. It's the one in which I dream of being the proprietress of a gourmet specialty foods shop. The type of place that serves seasonal, fresh fare: gorgeous salads with homemade dressings, tantalizing soups served with tartine, savory egg quiches formed in individual tart pans, single serving pizzas (for breakfast and lunch) made on artisinal wild yeast sourdough crust, and of course, perfect desserts that dazzle the eye in the pastry case. The bistro would be open for breakfast and lunch and perhaps afternoon tea (or for me, Café au lait instead of tea). Since I am dreaming, I can also add in a specialty cheese case and house-made charcuterie. I might as well make my own pickles and fermented items, too. Would you like homemade sauerkraut on your pastrami sandwich? Yes, please.
Then filtering through the sunlit daydream is the reality: food spoilage, employee turnover, vendors, plugged plumbing, a broken oven, fickle customers, payroll, bills, debt, theft, marketing plans, and balance sheets. The list goes on. Plus, after a long day in the kitchen, I am reminded by my aching feet (from standing constantly), and dry hands (from washing continuously) that cooking and/or baking for a living is no joke. It's really hard work. Much harder physically than my chosen profession selling technology services to industrial companies. And, yes, I am aware that if I should choose to go down this path one day, I should work on the business, and not in the business.
|My first attempt at making over-sized chocolate meringue cookies.
|The cocoa weighed down the whipped egg whites and produced a runny mixture.
If you will, picture me tucked into bed one night, reading light on, trying to make myself drowsy by slowly turning the pages of the Otollenghi cookbook while metaphorically devouring the beautiful photographs and using my right-brain to imagine how the delicious sounding recipes might taste. (Try saying Otollenghi five times fast... that'll make you want to snuff the light and go to sleep.) I finally crossed into the dessert section towards the end of the book and instantly became fully alert (now that's counter productive to the sleepy-time routine) when I saw a photo of the absolutely gorgeous Pistachio and Rose Water Meringues and then on the following page the dramatic billowing fluffs called Cinnamon and Hazelnut Meringues.
When I say meringues, let me confide in you that these particular globes of sugar and egg white awesomeness are like no other meringue cookies I have seen before. These cookies are paving their own way to stardom; all they need is an agent. In his best-selling book, Yotam writes, "If you ask someone if they've heard of Ottolenghi, the answer is often, "Yes, I know, it's the place with the meringues."" All it took was two photos to convince me that what Yotam wrote was true.
|The sugar is spread on a parchment lined baking sheet
before being transferred to the oven.
|The hot sugar is ready to be added to the frothy egg whites.
Similar to my experience with uncovering how to bake a Cathy's Rum Cake, it was once again up to me to figure out by trial and error how to produce a chocolate meringue cookie using Ottolenghi's method as a springboard. As the saying goes, third time's the charm. That's how many attempts it took to get this recipe right. I should be thankful. Three is not so many times at bat in the big "baking picture", especially if one reads Cook's Illustrated and contemplates what their recipe testers endure to get recipes to a publishable state.
So, bake more cookies I did. The only change I made was to beat the egg whites at a higher speed. I foolishly repeated adding the cocoa powder in the last two minutes of beating. Because I didn't really change anything, I should not have been surprised to get the same result as before. After further contemplation, it finally hit me that the fat in the cocoa powder was deflating the beautiful whipped egg whites. It seems silly really—I was scrupulously cleaning my mixer bowl and whisk with a juicy lemon slice to remove any invisible specs of fat from the bowl and yet I was introducing fat into the mix via the unsweetened cocoa. One tablespoon of cocoa (5 grams) contains a half gram of fat. In other words, enough fat to completely change the final consistency of the mixture from stiff and fluffy to soft and runny. Once the egg whites and sugar have finished whipping, you can add the flavorings or your choice. At Ottolenghi, the meringues are often dipped in pulverized praline or finely minced nuts, such as bright green pistachios.
For the third try I completely finished whipping the egg whites to the proper stiff and fluffy consistency. Then, and only then, did I mix in the vanilla extract while the machine was still cranking away. After I turned off the machine and removed the bowl to the counter, I used a light hand to fold in the cocoa. I preferred leaving streaks of cocoa through the mix, and then I added the chocolate chips. One of Maddie's guy friends said that the addition of chocolate chips was genius. While I am generally opposed to people throwing the word genius around willy-nilly, when it was applied to me, well... I willingly and gladly accepted the label. 'Cause really, the chocolate chips added to the mix is genius; a moment of inspiration. I also liked liberally decorating the tops with ground cocoa nibs for a more beautiful presentation, plus the nibs are pretty tasty.
|The crust is dry, but yields easily to the bite and the inside is gooey like a homemade marshmallow.