by Stephanie Zonis
Light yet chocolatey containers for almost any filling that suits your fancy, these meringues are not difficult to make, though they take some time in the oven. Be sure to make them on a day when the humidity is low! Egg whites must be beaten in very clean, absolutely grease-free bowls (which means glass or metal—no plastic) with beaters that are similarly clean. Be sure, too, that your egg whites are at room temperature before you start to beat them, as they'll achieve much greater volume that way.
As the recipe requires only a small amount of unsweetened cocoa, you can make this with regular cocoa, as opposed to Dutch process. Be advised, though, that using Dutch process will give you a deeper color and a more chocolate flavor. These meringues will keep for at least a week at room temperature, if stored airtight.
What to fill the "nests" with? I include a strawberry-and-whipped-cream filling, but you can use slightly softened ice cream, mousse, or pudding, if you wish (if you use mousse or pudding, wait until it has set, then scoop out enough to fill your "nests"). The crisp meringue shell gives a nice contrast to a soft filling. Feel free, too, to drizzle chocolate sauce or syrup over the completed meringues if that goes with the filling you choose. One final note: make sure you check your oven temperature before attempting these; some ovens cannot maintain a consistent low temperature.
1 c. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. sifted unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
4 egg whites, from eggs graded "large," at room temperature
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla
Optional filling (enough for four to six shells):
4-6 strawberries, washed, dried, trimmed, and hulled
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 to 1-1/2 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar
Adjust oven racks to divide oven into thirds. Line two large baking sheets (mine are 17-1/2" by 12-1/2" each) with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 225F.
In food processor fitted with steel blade, process the sugar in three or four bursts of 10 seconds each. In small cup, combine about 2 Tbsp. Of the processed sugar with the sifted cocoa powder; whisk or stir well until a uniform color. Set all aside.
In small bowl of electric stand mixer (I only have a large bowl, so that's what I use--that's OK, too), combine egg whites and cream of tartar. with whisk beater(s) attached, beat at high speed until very foamy. Begin to add the processed sugar, about 1 Tbsp. at a time. Beat at high speed between additions. Continue beating at high speed, gradually adding all of the processed sugar, until meringue stands in stiff peaks. Add vanilla; beat in at high speed. The meringue should be very stiff; if not, continue beating at high speed until it is. Remove from mixer.
With large, clean spatula, fold in cocoa-sugar mixture just until meringue is evenly colored. Do not overhandle. I use a 1/3 cup dry measure to portion out the meringue onto the prepared baking sheets; six or seven portions, widely spaced, will fit comfortably on one sheet. Once the portions of meringue are on the sheet, use the back of a spoon to form "nests". Keep the general shape as round as possible; you're looking for a deep trench in the middle with high sides surrounding it. Don't worry too much about getting the shape perfect; you must work quickly and this is a recipe, not an exam. These spread during baking, so be sure to leave room between "nests". As soon as one sheet has been filled, place it in the oven on the lower rack. Then complete the other sheet, and place that in the oven.
Bake for about 2 hours. After an hour, switch the baking sheets front-to-back and from top rack to bottom (and vice versa). The "nests" should barely brown, if at all. Immediately remove "nests" from baking sheet to cooling rack; they may stick to the parchment paper slightly, and I have found that a nonstick, thin-bladed pancake turner is a great help in removing them. The "nests" should sound hollow and crisp when you taps their bottoms gently.
Cool completely before storing airtight at room temperature (these cool very quickly). Important note: on several occasions, when these were cooling on racks, they have made the most terrible cracking and popping noises, as though they were all on the verge of collapsing. Though I watched them anxiously, absolutely nothing happened. So don't be concerned if this occurs. Fill "nests" as desired; serve immediately after filling.Makes 12 "nests"
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