Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coffee Toffee Brilliant

There comes a time in every New Year's restraint that one must get some comfort. Here's a recipe that won't break your resolutions, much. Think of meringues as little bits of cloud -- a little sugar, little egg white, little cream. No harm, no foul.

I am so blessed to have friends that do not mind if I peruse their cookbooks when I am in their kitchen. (I am always listening, however.) This particular pal is a fellow traveler in many ways, and I love to pull  in to their long trestle table, kids on the floor strewn 'round with toys, sip whatever concoction she's brewed.

And jack recipes from her cookbooks.

This recipe is from another woman who I am positive I would love to have a chat with over tea, one of the one-name wonders of the cooking kingdom just now: Nigella. She has that broad range of dishes, from functional to fantasy, and that great wit. And of course, it all tastes good.

I dared this one for a houseful of hungries, even though I haven't had much luck with meringues of late. In my childhood, one of our favorite Christmas cookies was the Chocolate Chip Meringue, which I tried to recreate a few years back to total embarrassment. They looked a bit like white cow patties, and stuck your teeth together (handy when you have toddlers, so we ate some anyway). These, however, were completely easy, and baked up like I was a pro. I made the meringues and the sauce hours ahead, and after dinner merely whipped the cream and assembled.

These are little packets of crusty meringue with a soft center, stuffed with whipped cream and topped with just a drizzle of toffee sauce and crunchy hazelnut. Voila. Even after a big meal there were none of these left. From ages 6-76, everyone loved them; the kids vied for seconds. Can't say that about too many recipes. Bravo, N.

Coffee Toffee Meringues
jacked wholecloth from Nigella Lawson's "Kitchen"

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
pinch of cream of tartar
4 egg whites
1/2 cup toasted crushed hazelnuts, for topping (Nigella says "optional" but I note "awesome")

For Toffee sauce:
1 Tablespoon butter
1/3 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Frangelico hazelnut liqueur (optional)

For filling:
2 cups heavy cream, whipped

Make meringues: Preheat oven to 285 degrees.Combine white sugar, brown sugar, coffee powder and cream of tartar in a bowl, and set aside. Beat egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks start to form.  Begin to sprinkle  in the sugar mix 1 tbs at a time while still beating, until you have a glossy thick batter.  This process is much easier with an electric beater, or better still, a freestanding mixer.  Allow adequate time between each addition for the sugar to dissolve, the batter will be smooth, not grainy.
   Line a baking sheet with a silpat or wax paper.  Spoon out dollops of meringue (about 2 big dessert spoonfuls) to give roughly 3-inch rounds.  If you use 2 spoons, you can scoop the batter, then slip it off the spoon onto the tray, and give the top a little spike.  Sprinkle each with 1/2 tsp of chopped hazelnuts, saving the rest for serving.
   Bake in preheated oven for about 45 minutes; meringues should be crusty outside  but still gooey in the middle, and fragile to touch.  Take them out of the oven and don't touch -- let cool on baking sheet.

Make toffee sauce: Melt  butter, golden syrup and light brown sugar in a pan over low heat, occasionally swirling gently, then bring to a boil and let bubble for 2 minutes.  Take  pan off  heat and whisk in 1/4 cup cream and liqueur if you like.  Pour into a small heatproof pitcher and leave to cool.

To serve:
Whip the cream until firm but not stiff. Crush a dent into the top of each meringue with the back of a spoon (the shells will splinter a bit), then split it a little and fill with a dollop of cream.  Drizzle on ssauce and sprinkle with reserved chopped hazelnuts.

Meringues can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container.  Sauce can be made a day ahead and kept in the fridge covered.  Remove from the fridge 1-2 hours before needed to allow it to come to room temperature.


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