Saturday, February 16, 2013

flourless chocolate-walnut cookies

 I'd like to think by now I have some some grasp of the mechanics of baking. But nothing in my makeshift culinary education can account for these cookies—a handful of ingredients culled together into chewy, crackly-surfaced goodness with nothing more than confectioners' sugar and a few efficient egg whites. A better baker would devote time to unraveling their dark (and gluten-free) mysteries; I choose simply to revel in the delicious results.

Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies
From Fran├žois Payard

As much as I enjoyed these cookies (and appreciate their virtuous and logic-defying composition), they strike me as more of a textural revelation than a taste one. The cocoa powder + confectioner's sugar combination doesn't provide the depth of flavor of some other chocolate cookies I've made in the past. That said, I will definitely continue to experiment with this recipe, perhaps with one of these variations.

2 3/4 cups walnut halves
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and line two large-rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. (From what I've read, the parchment paper is key; do not substitute silicone baking mats.)

Spread the walnut halves on a large-rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant. Let cool slightly, then transfer the walnut halves to a work surface and coarsely chop them.

In a large bowl, whisk (or combine in an electric mixer on low speed) the confectioners’ sugar with the cocoa powder and salt followed by the chopped walnuts. While whisking (or once you change the speed to medium), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not overbeat or it will stiffen). Don't automatically add all the egg whites. You want the batter to be thick and goopy — not wet and runny. So if it's thick, goopy, and scoopable, stop there.

Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds, and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking.

Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto 2 wire racks. Let cookies cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.