Dicembre Dolce {Sweet December}

Post image for Dicembre Dolce {Sweet December}

Photo by Maren Caruso, from Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian (2011, Weldon-Owen)

 

I do not have a sweet tooth. Nine times out of ten I will choose a second helping of pasta over dessert.

Except in December.

December was made for sweets—sweet breads, boozy cakes, spiced pies, and cookies—cookies piped with icing, festooned with sprinkles, dipped in melted chocolate, or dusted with “sugar snow”, as my kids referred to confectioners’ sugar when they were little.

To celebrate December and the holidays, I’m devoting this month’s posts to sweets—Italian sweets, of course—starting with the sweetest of them all.

Meringues.

My (rather irrational) fondness for meringues dates back to my childhood, and specifically to the meringues at Pasticceria Marinari, near my aunts’ house in Rome. Marinari’s meringues were the best, creamy white and billowy, like snow drifts, or clouds. And sweet—tooth-achingly, headache-inducing sweet. When you bit into one it cracked, then crunched and collapsed, resulting in a fine spray of powdery crumbs. The interior was a pocket of air and a lovely soft layer that was sticky and chewy, like nougat.

There was a tempting selection of meringues in Marinari’s display cases, some of them tiny as buttons, others as big as hamburger buns, some studded with nuts and others dipped in chocolate. The ones that my sister and I always chose were the big ones, and they came in doubles—two giant meringues sandwiched together with thick whipped cream and decorated with drizzles of chocolate. How we ever finished them I don’t know, but we did.

I don’t make meringues often. For one thing, they really are awfully sweet. Also, much like when I make jam, I worry that something will go wrong—my egg whites won’t whip properly or the meringues will flatten into pale, foamy pancakes in the oven. This, I’m happy to say, has not happened in a long time. The key to making successful meringues, I have found, is to a) follow the recipe instructions closely and b) don’t be afraid. Fear is more likely than anything else to deflate your meringues, so just go for it. Here are a few tips to help you along:

1) Use room-temperature egg whites that are free of any yolk
2) Use a clean, dry stainless steel bowl
3) Add a bit of acid, such as cream of tartar, to help stabilize the whipped whites
4) Be sure to beat the whites to stiff, shiny peaks

This recipe for chocolate-dipped hazelnut meringues comes from my book Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian. To balance the sweetness of the meringues, I folded chopped toasted hazelnuts into the batter and then dipped the baked meringues in melted bittersweet chocolate. I have to say, I’m pretty sure that even the pastry chefs at Pasticceria Marinari would approve of these.

 P.S. If you adore holiday cookies, check out my friend Lora’s blog, Cake Duchess. Lora is spreading holiday cheer by featuring links to cookie posts from blogs across the Internet. It’s called #cookielove and there are dozens of cookie recipes and photos to feast on.

Makes about 40 cookies

Meringhe alla Nocciola {Chocolate-Dipped Hazelnut Meringues}

from Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian (2011, Weldon Owen)

Bittersweet chocolate and chopped toasted hazelnuts balance the sweetness of these crispy, festive meringue cookies.

Ingredients

  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups hazelnuts, shelled, toasted, skinned, and coarsely chopped (see Cook's Note)
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Instructions

Position two racks in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 275 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat on medium speed until foamy. Sprinkle in the salt. Raise the speed to high and beat in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat in the vanilla. At this point, the egg whites should hold stiff, glossy peaks that curl at the tips. Using a silicone spatula, gently fold in the hazelnuts.

Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of the meringue onto the prepared baking sheets. (If you want more uniformly shaped meringues, spoon the meringue into a pastry bag and pipe it onto the parchment-lined pans.)

Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake until the edges of the meringues are pale golden, 35-40 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the meringues in the oven for 30 minutes without opening the oven door. Remove the baking sheets from the oven. Using an angled metal spatula, gently transfer the meringues to wire racks to cool completely. Reserve the parchment-lined baking sheets; you will use them after you dip the meringues in chocolate.

Put the chocolate in the top of a double boiler and set over (but not touching) barely simmering water. Heat, stirring, until the chocolate has melted. Stir in the oil. Remove from the heat.

Carefully pick up a cooled meringue and dip the bottom into the hot chocolate, letting the excess drip off. Set the meringue, chocolate side down, on a reserved parchment-lined baking sheet. Dip the remaining meringues into the chocolate in the same way and set them on the baking sheets. Place in the freezer until the chocolate is set, about 5 minutes. Using the angled spatula, remove the meringues from the baking sheets. Store the merinuges in airtight containers, using a sheet of parchment paper to separate the layers, at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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28 Responses to Dicembre Dolce {Sweet December}

  1. AdriBarr December 5, 2011 at 12:33 am #

    Ciao Domenica, Indeed this is time for sweets, and I unlike you, definitely have a sweet tooth. Your meringues just bring back so many wonderful memories; how lovely to see this post. What sage wisdom you impart – indeed Egg Foam Fear abounds. Your clear directions ought to go a long way to alleviating worry for many. I send my best wishes for tremendous success with your new book. Buon natale!

    • Domenica December 5, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      Grazie, Adri. Fear really is the biggest obstacle to success in the kitchen (and in general, I guess) isn’t it. You just gotta roll up your sleeves and do it. What are your favorite cookies to make for Christmas?

  2. Alejandra (@frijolita) December 5, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    These are so pretty! And they look delightfully messy.

    • Domenica December 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

      Meringue is magical, isn’t it–and yes, sticky & messy but totally worth it.

  3. janie December 5, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    These look delectable and I want to try them. I feel the same way as you about meringue making but I’m going to forge ahead as two of my favorite ingredients are in this recipe-chcoolate and hazelnuts!

    • Domenica December 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

      Roll up those sleeves, Janie. And let me know how it goes…

  4. Elisa December 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    OMG! I took a turn into memory lane. I used to go to the pasticceria after high school Massimo D’Azeglio and took the sweet route in Cso.Trieste for a treat. I never thought about it and now you brought back such a wonderful memory. Grazie!!!!

    • Domenica December 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

      Veramente?? Allora abitavi vicino alle mie zie. La loro casa era vicino a Villa Ada. We used to walk down to Piazza S. Emerenziana and go shopping and then to the pasticceria. Did you ever have the bavarese? My aunts used to buy them and I used to take the hard square pastry shell off the top and eat the thick custard filling. Cosa prendevi, tu? I love this connection!

      • Elisa December 6, 2011 at 11:12 am #

        I lived in Via di Priscilla nel quartiere Savoia vicino a Via Salaria and very close to Santa Emerenziana which was a regular walking street for us. At the pasticceria I used to be crazy about the bigne’ con panna e le meringhe giganti. Conosco molto bene il parco di Villa Ada, mio padre ci portava la’ a fare una passeggiata e mio zio,sacerdote, ci faceva andare in pattini, quelli a rotelle….

        • Domenica December 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

          Mi fai venire la nostalgia, Elisa. Quand’ero bambina andavamo a Villa Ada per passeggiare e per giocare. Andavamo sulle macchinette (bumper cars). Andavamo anche noi in pattini a rotelle. Tanti ricordi…

  5. Elizabeth @Mango_Queen December 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Oh I love how you described the meringues! Now I’m smitten. When I muster the courage and have eggwhites, I might just try this delicious dessert. Thanks for sharing, Domenica!

  6. Barbara | Creative Culinary December 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    I am going to make these…did you see the meringues I posted today? Yes, they are cute but these are beautiful and I want them bad!

    • Domenica December 6, 2011 at 10:42 am #

      I took a peak over at your blog, Barb. Your meringues are lovely; they look like mini Christmas trees!

      • Domenica December 6, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

        that’s ‘peek’, not ‘peak.’

  7. Alicia Sokol December 5, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    Oh, I wish I didn’t have a sweet tooth. My mom used to make peppermint meringues when I was a child and I just LOVED them! She used to leave them in the oven overnight and I thought that was so funny. Thanks for this terrific post!

    • Domenica December 6, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      Ooh. You should make those peppermint meringues, Alicia. They sound perfect for the holidays. I’ve seen recipes that call for leaving meringues in the oven overnight–I can see how that would seem funny to a kid, sort of like those recipes for cakes that start with a cold oven. Counter-intuitive!

  8. Lora @cakeduchess December 6, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    oh Domenica-le tue meringhe sono stupende! I love your comments here about Italy. Your post just brought me to Italy. Now if it could bring us both there together that would be even better:)un bacione! grazie x tuo link. xx

  9. juniakk @ mis pensamientos December 7, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    i love how this is a naturally gluten free cookie! these cookies look delicious! sending some #cookielove to u! thanks for linking up at our #lovebloghop!

    • Domenica December 7, 2011 at 10:27 am #

      Thanks for stopping by. The GF aspect hadn’t even crossed my mind! I love the #lovebloghop idea and I’m looking forward to checking out the other posts. Cheers, D

  10. francoise brito December 9, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    lovely and light

    do you ever do or can recommend pasta making classes – i live in dc?

    many thanks domenica

    • Domenica December 9, 2011 at 10:31 am #

      So glad you stopped by my site, Francioise. I do occasionally teach classes (I am working on putting together a pasta class at Hill’s Kitchen, on Capitol Hill). I have sent you an email with a little more detail. Thanks for your interest!

  11. Jamie December 12, 2011 at 5:23 am #

    Mmmm I love meringues but sadly some of my men don’t! How odd is that. And dipped in chocolate makes them twice as fabulous! Meringues are also huge here in France, great, enormous mounds of them dusted with cocoa powder. Yeah, I do love them!

    • Domenica December 12, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

      My husband is not fond of meringues either, Jamie. Too sweet for him. I do like the idea of dusting them with unsweetened cocoa powder to cut the sweetness, and for the beautiful effect. There are other sweets I enjoy eating more, but as far as looks go, nothing is lovelier than a meringue–except an enormous mound of them!

  12. Cristina December 13, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    These chocolate-dipped hazelnut meringues look and sound so good. I’ve never tasted a meringue, not even sure how what the texture, etc should be like. I’m looking forward to giving these a try. Thanks for sharing…btw – love your new Rustic Italian cookbook!

    • Domenica December 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

      Thanks! Glad you are liking the book. As for meringues, they can be a little intimidating if you’ve never made them (let alone tasted them) but I say go for it. Different kinds of meringue have different textures. These ones are baked at length in a low-heat oven. This makes them crispy and crunchy on the outside, with just a bit of moisture/stickiness inside. They are light and weigh almost nothing. Their texture is quite different than, say, the meringue you would use to top a lemon meringue pie, which is soft and marshmallow-like. Give it a try!

  13. Joan Hayes@chocolate and more December 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    I never even thought to dip a meringue in Chocolate, you are my new hero!

    • Domenica December 20, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

      Joan, I believe this is the first time I’ve ever been lauded as a hero. Thank you for stopping by and making my day.

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