With Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year falling so closely together, you could say that February’s theme color is red. Red symbolizes love and good fortune (in Chinese culture), of course.
But I say February’s theme color is brown, because there’s no better month to indulge in chocolate!
I recently made Beacon Hill Cookies from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies. Alice Medrich is a goddess on so many levels. Entrepreneur magazine named her America’s “First Lady of Chocolate.” Not only are her recipes decadent (I’ve never encountered a bad recipe from her), but her book Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts is the best low-fat, if not dessert, book out there. You can have low-fat dessert and never know the difference!
Back to the cookies… I prefer to call them Truffle Cookies because it’s a much better description. It’s basically melted chocolate with just enough beaten egg whites to aerate it. Upon biting into the cookie, the paper thin crust shatters to reveal a creamy center.
You should use the finest quality chocolate you can find. Because there’s so few ingredients, the chocolate can’t hide behind the “dough.” I used chocolate that I bought in Europe last May. Even after seven months, the chocolate was still in its prime. Of course proper storage helped. Since New York is humid in the summer, I wrapped the chocolate in plastic wrap, refrigerated it in a metal tin (so flavors in the fridge wouldn’t seap through), and didn’t unwrap the chocolate until it came to room temperature. If you unwrap it any earlier, condensation will cause the chocolate to develop white spots (bloom). A little water + chocolate is like oil + water. Not a good combination! The original Beacon Hill cookie recipe calls for chocolate chips. You could use them, but chips have additives that help them keep their shape.
Warning, these cookies are deadly! These are not cookies you scarf down mindlessly. You must savor the aroma and flavor of each bite, doting on the subtle flavors in your chocolate.
Last note about the ingredients: cream of tartar stabilizes the whites and helps them beat faster. If you’ve ever beaten whites but instead got a white curd floating on top of a watery mess, you’ve overbeaten the whites. Cream of tartar acts as insurance. However, a tiny jar costs about $5, and as Alton Brown says, it’s a one-hit wonder. I prefer kitchen multitaskers, so you can substitute it with twice the amount of distilled white vinegar or lemon juice. Some people complain about the off flavor of vinegar, but I can never detect it in the baked product.
Chocolate Truffle Cookies
adapted from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies
These are best eaten the day they’re baked. They’re still good a couple days later, but they lose their truffle-like creaminess.
Makes about 30 2-inch cookies
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces
2 large egg whites, at room temperature (hint: whites are easier to separate when they’re cold but beat better when they’re at room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1/2 teaspon white vinegar or 1/2 teaspon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper or greased
Optional step: To bring out the flavors of the nuts, toast them whole in a 325F oven for about 10 minutes, or until they’re fragrant and browned. Chop them when they’ve cooled.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl in the microwave on medium for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, or set the chocolate in a double boiler. Stir frequently until the chocolate is almost completely melted. Remove from the heat and stir to complete the melting. Set aside.
Beat egg whites with the cream of tartar (or vinegar or lemon juice) and vanilla until soft peaks form when you lift the beaters. Add the sugar gradually, continuing to beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. They’re ready if you invert the beaters and the egg whites stand straight up. If they droop, they’re not ready. Pour the nuts and all of the warm chocolate over the egg whites. Fold with a rubber spatula until the color is uniform.
Right away, drop level teaspoons of batter at least 1 inch apart on the cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are shiny and cracked, firm when you press them but still gooey inside. Rotate the sheets from front to back and top to bottom of the oven about halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Store airtight for up to 3 days.
Frugal me…while the cookies are baking, lick the bowl clean, because the batter’s like chocolate mousse. If some of the chocolate solidified in the double boiler or spatula, pour warm milk over it to remelt it. Then treat yourself to a cup of real hot chocolate.
Some ideas for lightening the cookie:
- Use half the nuts and toast them so you can get away with using less. Also chop them finer so every cookie has nuts.
- Substitute a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar for half of the chocolate.
- Substitute softened Nutella for the chocolate and omit the sugar. Okay, the Nutella doesn’t really help, but it’s an interesting variation.
- Use low-fat chocolate souffle as the batter but bake as directed above.
I only tried the first option, so I have no idea how the other variations work. If you try it, let me know!