My recent cookbook, "Molto Batali," is divided into 12 chapters that correspond to the calendar months of the year. The third chapter starts: "Arriva marzo pazzerello; esce il sole e prendi l'ombrello!" or "Here comes crazy March; the sun comes out and you grab your umbrella!"
The weather this March has been unpredictable, to say the least. We have experienced fall, winter and spring in the span of 10 days. This recipe works during every season. It's the perfect transitional dessert, to bridge winter and spring.
In its simplest form, meringue is a combination of sugar and whipped egg whites. In this recipe, I add Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur from Northern Italy. The hazelnut makes it a little exotic but delicate. It's the subtlety of this preparation that makes it distinctly Italian.
The baked meringues can be stored in an airtight container filled with uncooked rice for a couple of days. Re-create this dessert for a couple of nights. It makes the perfect midnight snack.
>Hazelnut Meringues With Chocolate Chip Mascarpone
8 ounces hazelnuts, skins on
6 eggs whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup plus 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Frangelico or other hazelnut liqueur
1 cup mascarpone, at room temperature (or use cream cheese)
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Make the meringues: Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line four cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast them in the oven until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove, and lower the oven temperature to 200 F.
Place the hazelnuts in a food processor and zap, pulsing, until finely ground, but not so long that they form a paste. Divide the ground nuts in half and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Then add the cream of tartar, turn the mixer speed to high, and whip until the whites form soft peaks. Fold in 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar and whip on high speed to form firm, glossy peaks. Add the Frangelico and whip again until the whites look like shaving cream. Fold in the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and one portion of the ground hazelnuts.
Place the mixture in a piping bag, and pipe out 1 1/2 -inch-wide flat coin-shaped disks on the parchment-lined cookie sheets, about 20 per sheet. Put two sheets in a cool spot. Place the remaining two sheets in the oven and bake for 1 hour. Then rotate the sheets and bake for another 30 minutes, until the meringues are crisp and firm. Slide the parchment off the sheets onto the counter; let the meringues cool completely. Repeat with remaining meringues.
Prepare the filling: Place the mascarpone in a mixing bowl, and add the superfine sugar, the mini chocolate chips, and the remaining ground hazelnuts. Stir to form a smooth mixture with the consistency of frosting. Place a generous teaspoon of the filling on the flat side of one meringue and then adhere another disk, flat side toward the filling, like a sandwich. Repeat with the remaining filling and meringues. These are best served immediately.
Note: The baked meringues (without the filling) can be stored in an airtight container filled with uncooked rice for 1 to 2 days. They are best eaten the day they are made, however.