Dark Chocolate Almond Meringue Cookies

We had friends over for dinner on Friday night, which gave me the perfect excuse to try a new dessert recipe.  I try not to get myself involved in "projects" like making meringue cookies unless I have someone coming over to help me eat them.

Meringues are the gelato of the cookie family - they're a little lighter than most cookies and they pack really intense flavor.  You really taste a nice dark chocolate flavor when you bite into these, and while you'll certainly be tempted to eat more than one, a couple of these cookies really hit the spot after dinner.  The recipe contains a decent amount of sugar, but I've read that the sugar is necessary to give the meringues their crisp texture.  Plus, the recipe makes 40 cookies, so even with the sugar, each cookie is less than 20 calories.  

I'm sure you can make lovely vanilla meringues, but I went for the dark chocolate version.  I also added some finely chopped almonds to the batter for some extra crunch and flavor.  You can really experiment with different flavorings in these and might want to give toasted peanuts or hazelnuts a try.  Or you can leave out the chocolate all together (not completely sacrilegious) and add some lemon zest to make lemon meringue cookies.  It's really up to you.

I would love to make these my new Christmas cookie to give away around the holidays.  They stay fresh longer than most cookies, and you can experiment endlessly with different flavors.   I've even seen recipes for peppermint meringue cookies...

This recipe is based on the Chocolate Meringue Cookie recipe in the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts, which has lots of great dessert recipes in it.  I particularly love the "Guiltless Low-fat Treats" list at the back of the book - this recipe is one of those.

Dark Chocolate Almond Meringue Cookies (Makes approximately 40 cookies)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (get Ghiradelli or another good brand- it does make a difference)
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 egg whites, at room temperature*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup powdered sugar or superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup almonds, finely chopped (toasted if you like)

*You can get the egg whites to room temperature a couple different ways.  The first is to separate the eggs and leave the egg whites out on the counter until they're room temperature.  The other way is to put the uncracked eggs in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes to bring them to room temperature and then carefully separate the whites from the yolks.  Store the yolks covered in the refrigerator for another use.  They're great to brush on homemade breads before they go in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

1. Sift together the cocoa and cornstarch into a small bowl and set aside.

2. Add the egg whites, salt, and cream of tarter to the bowl of your mixer.  Use the whisk attachment to beat the egg whites at medium speed until foamy.  With the mixer running on low speed (so you don't end up with powdered sugar all over yourself), gradually add the powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.  Continue to beat for at least 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, glossy, and forms stiff peaks.  Beat in the vanilla extract.
3.  Add the cocoa mixture and the chopped nuts to the top of the egg white mixture.
4.  Gently fold in the cocoa mixture and nuts until the mixture is mostly combined.  It's OK if your batter looks marbled, you just don't want to over-mix and deflate your egg whites.
5.  You can transfer your batter to a plastic bag and cut the corner to make an impromptu pastry bag.
Or, you can just use a teaspoon to drop small dollops of the batter on the prepared baking sheets.  Either way, you'll want small teaspoon-sized dollops spaced about an inch apart on your baking sheet.
6.  Bake for 1.5 hours at 250 degrees.  When the cookies are finished baking, turn the oven off but don't open it.  Leave the baked cookies in the oven for a few hours, or overnight if you're making them in the evening.

The cookies should be crunchy when you bite into them, but the flavor will melt in your mouth.  Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.  They'll stay fresh longer than they'll survive.

Here are the nutrition facts for one cookie, assuming you get about 40 small cookies.  If you're anything like me and C, you won't be able to just eat one.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 7 g
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 
Trans Fat 
Total Carbohydrates 
Vitamin A 0%Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0%Iron 1%

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