Light meringue cookies perfect for springtime

Meringues seem so right for this time of year, as winter recedes and spring beckons. They're also perfect for any Easter menu.

This cookie recipe is from pastry chef Michelle Gayer. I've been hooked on them since I watched her prepare them in the kitchen at the Franklin Street Bakery in Minneapolis, Minn.

There are so many reasons to love these festive, luxurious-looking cookies.

For one, they're incredibly easy to make, with just four ingredients. Even better, there are no decorating skills required; the oven does all the design work.

For another, the texture is incredible, with a glossy, slightly crispy shell that collapses into a moist, airy interior filled with naughty amounts of chocolate.

They're packed with chocolate, boasting both a mild cocoa tang and a sharper, richer and slightly gooey chocolate bite, depending upon the type used (I prefer a mix of bittersweet and semi-sweet).

They're gluten-free, and even for those of us who don't stick to a gluten-free diet, isn't it nice to occasionally encounter a lighter, flour-free cookie?

I tend to make them almost absurdly big (think small cupcake), dividing the batter with an ice cream scoop and baking all of the batter off in a single batch of a dozen. They'll work just as well if you're more judicious with the batter; heaping tablespoons will yield roughly 20 cookies.

Chocolate Meringues

1/2cup egg whites (from about 4 eggs)

1 cup superfine sugar (see note)

2 1/2 tablespoons sifted unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2cup chopped chocolate chips (see note)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a double boiler over gently boiling water, combine egg whites and sugar and simmer, whisking occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour mixture into bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip egg white mixture on medium speed for 5 minutes, then increase to medium-high speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until mixture is stiff but not dry.

Using a rubber spatula, fold cocoa into egg white mixture until well incorporated, then fold in chocolate chips. Place heaping tablespoons of batter onto prepared baking sheets.

Bake 18 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Remove from oven and cool cookies on baking sheets until ready to serve. Store in a single layer in an airtight container for up to 1 day. Makes 1 to 2 dozen.

Notes: For chocolate chips, use any combination you like: bittersweet, semi-sweet, unsweetened and white chocolate. Granulated sugar can be substituted for superfine sugar, but the latter produces a more supple meringue. Make your own by pulsing granulated sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.

The Wichita Eagle—03/09/11