I had a bunch of girlfriends over for dinner a couple weeks ago, and one of them (whom I nonetheless love very much) is a serial dieter. Not in a fad-diet kind of way, more in a oh-no-I-shouldn't kind of way. It makes me sad, since I show my love through sugar and butter, but I was determined not to either a) do without dessert at my dinner party or b) make her watch everyone else eat pound cake while she tried not to salivate. I did a bit of research, skipped a lot of recipes that involved Splenda or other unnatural ingredients (no offense to people who use that stuff, but I always find I can taste the difference, and anyway my dieter-friend is a bit of a purist), and wound up back at Joy the Baker, where I reacquainted myself with a recipe I'd bookmarked weeks before, for vanilla bean and cocoa nib meringues.
I'd been meaning to make them for a while – I even ordered cocoa nibs from Amazon, so I had all the ingredients – I just hadn't gotten around to it. But as meringues are pretty much the only fat-free dessert I could think of, I figured they'd be perfect. Besides, vanilla bean and cocoa nib? How grown-up ladylike is that?
So I went at it, following Joy's recipe nearly exactly (I did 4 egg whites, because I wanted to be sure I'd have enough cookies, but the recipe was surprisingly easy to adapt). It wasn't until the shiny little dollops of pretty were in the oven that I did some research on meringues – turns out, by all accounts, these buggers are super tricky! Of course, I panicked, and did more research, and panicked some more. Then I turned the oven down a bit, and left them in for a while after the timer went off (I turned the oven off, but left the door closed). And, I'm not ashamed to say, I may have prayed, just a little bit.
See, all the info I'd found had sent me into a dither. Half the advice conflicted with the other half, and nearly all of it was moot by the time I put the cookies in the oven. The only tricks I could actually use by the time I read them were ones that had to do with oven temp and timing. So I used those, sort of... I kind of ended up doing something in between what Joy suggested and what the rest of the world suggested. And, lo and behold, they came out beautiful!
Now, having never made meringues before, and not being the greatest connoisseur (although we do live near an Ottolenghi, and I do adore his meringues, which are said to be some of the best in London), I can't tell you whether or not these were perfect. What I can tell you is that they were hollow, with just a bit of chewiness at the bottom, just the way I like them. And the vanilla scent (almost too light to be called flavor) and crunchy, nutty cocoa nibs made it feel like the most grown-up, responsible, lovely indulgence-that's-not-too-indulgent ever.
I was well chuffed. So much so that last week, when I went to another dinner party which my dieter-friend (who, for the record, is gorgeous and slim and too hard on herself) would be attending, I ignored the hostess's request that I not bring a 'pudding' (British for dessert, and she asked me not to bring any because she (super tiny) is on a 'wedding diet') and made meringues instead. This time, just for kicks, I swapped out the vanilla and nibs for cinnamon, cocoa powder, and espresso powder, and the result – which I called my Mexican Mocha Meringues – were amazing. Dare I say, even better than the original? Maybe that's just because I'm obsessed with cinnamon, though.
Anyway, the point is, you should make these meringues (or the mocha ones, if you like). Even if you've never made meringues before – heck, especially if you've never made meringues before – you should totally give these a go. They're gorgeous, and perfect with a cup of tea.
Oh, and if you're stressing about what to do with the yolks, just hold your horses – I've got a recipe for those too, coming your way as soon as I can get it together!
Vanilla Bean and Cocoa Nib Meringues
method slightly adapted from JtB (definitely check her method out too – I'd hate to ruin your first meringues with slapdash experimentation)
(Note: to make the Mexican Mocha version I referenced above, use the same method as this recipe, but replace the vanilla bean with 2 Tbsp cinnamon, and after the whites are shiny and stiff, instead of the nibs, fold in a mixture of 3 Tbsp cocoa powder and 1 tsp instant espresso powder)
Preheat your oven to 250F/120C and position a rack in the upper third of the space. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
In a small bowl, stir together until well combined, then set aside:
3/4 c sugar
scrapings of 1 vanilla bean
In a very clean, dry mixing bowl (I rubbed mine with a lemon half to ensure there was absolutely no grease on it) with an electric whisk, beat on medium speed until foamy:
3 egg whites
Add and beat on med-high until soft peaks form:
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
When the mixture is white and foamy, with large (but tight) bubbles, increase whisk speed to high and gradually add the sugar. Beat until stiff, glossy peaks form (about 3 minutes) – the mixture should be thick and shiny, and should hold its shape when spooned.
With a spatula, fold in:
3 Tbsp cocoa nibs