Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recipe Box: Meringues

These are gluten-free, fat-free, very cheap to make, and are great if you need something to keep fresh for a long while before a potluck. 

You will need an electric mixer.  Whipping egg whites by hand is a test of endurance.  Even one of the $20 hand-held mixers from Wal-mart will work, even if it takes a little longer than a stand mixer. 

4 egg whites 
2 cups confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or foil.

Beat eggs until they turn white and frothy.  Add cream of tartar and vanilla, then add sugar gradually as you beat until it is all incorporated.  Beat on high (or gradually up to 8 on a Kitchenaid stand mixer) until stiff peaks form.  When you lift the mixer, the resulting point should stay sharp instead of folding over. 

Spoon mixture into a pastry bag with a large round or star tip.  In a pinch you can cut a corner out of a gallon ziplock and use it as a pastry bag, or even just two spoons to make meringue mounds. 

Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours.  Switch the sheets and turn them after 1 hour for even baking.  After 2 hours, turn off the oven and leave the meringues where they are for another hour to gradually cool.  They are more drying out than baking. 

If you're in a hurry, you can bake them at 225 for an hour and a half, switching and turning after the first hour.  You'll need to watch them carefully for any signs that they are browning on the bottom (best test is the taste test!) at which point you should turn off the oven and let them rest for 30-60 minutes to finish drying.

Store immediately in airtight container.


You can reduce the sugar to 1.5 cups if you increase the cream of tartar to 1/2 tsp, or eliminate the cream of tartar by adding an additional 1/4 cup sugar.  Either sugar or tartar is needed to stabilize the whites.

The meringues will not expand any more than they are, so you can set them almost touching each other on the baking sheet if you need the room.  I like to make mini-meringues by setting 1" dots very close together.  This recipe will fill two baking sheets completely with mini meringues. 

You can make meringue "baskets" just like the clay baskets you made as a kid by coiling a long snake of clay.  Once they're baked you can serve them filled with something, like fresh berries, custard, or ice cream. 

Eggs will separate better cold, but will give you more volume at room temperature.  Once you separate the eggs, let the whites sit for 30 minutes to warm and they will whip up higher. 

Fresh eggs will give you more stable meringue, 4-5 day old eggs will whip up with more volume (because the fluid is thinner).  For this, the stability of fresh eggs is better for handling in the pastry bag. 

Play with additives once you have an idea of how the meringue behaves.  Try adding 1/4 cup shredded coconut and some almond or coconut extract.  Try adding mini chocolate chips and a few tablespoons of cocoa powder.  Or maybe a few tablespoons of orange juice.  frosting dye added at the soft peak stage will give you colors. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Recipe Box: Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake

An extremely rich, dark chocolate concoction with the consistency and taste of a truffle.  It sounds (and tastes!) much more complex than it is, and the result is something that will wow the crowd.  This is best served with a topping to off-set the intensity of the chocolate.  Fresh whipping cream is my choice, but for a potluck fresh berries may be a better pick because the cream may fall unless it is kept well-chilled.  Even fresh fruit like sliced bananas would be an interesting twist and complement the chocolate well.  cream-cheese frosting or fruit dip may be too sweet for your taste, but try it and see!

The liqueur does not entirely bake off, so if alcohol is an issue try substituting another liquid.  Water will give a more basic chocolate flavor, while coffee would add a touch of mocha.  A chocolate-compatible fruit juice such as orange, cherry or pomegranate would do interesting things as well.  Use water and add 3/4 tsp peppermint extract for a chocolate-mint flavor.

If you use a spring-form cake pan, either wrap the outside really well with tin foil to prevent the water bath from leaking in, or set a large pan of water on the rack directly below the cake pan (as close as possible).  The bain-marie adds moisture so that the surface of the cake does not dry out and crack during the long baking. 


1/2 cup Grand Marnier liqueur (see note above for substitutions)
1 cup salted butter (or unsalted, with 1/4 tsp salt added to the sugar/liqueur mix)
3/4 cup white sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
14 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3 large eggs
3 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

start a pot of water to boil.  You'll be either setting the cake pan in a larger pan filled with boiling water, or if using a springform pan, setting a pan of boiling water directly underneath it.  Make sure you boil enough water to give you a 1" deep "bath" (bain-marie).

Line the bottom of a 10" cake pan with parchment and grease it and the sides lightly.  See notes above for using a springform pan.  You can make mini-cakes with liners in a cupcake tin, but reduce cooking time to 40 minutes and check it at 30.  Remove if the tops look dry or have any cracks. 

Place the chocolate pieces in a large glass mixing bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds on high.  Stir, then microwave for an additional 20 seconds.  Continue stirring until smooth, cooking for an addition 10 seconds at a time if the pieces are not melting after stirring for one minute.

Combine liqueur (or substitute) and sugar in a small saucepan and stir constantly over medium-low heat until the liquid is clear and sugar is dissolved. Set aside. 

Soften butter (microwave 5 seconds at a time on high, turning sticks 1/4 turn after each interval until very soft)

stir butter well into chocolate until smooth

stir sugared liquid into mixture until smooth

beat eggs in a separate bowl.  Slowly add about 1 cup (doesn't need to be exact) of the chocolate mixture to the eggs while stirring briskly.  Then stir the egg mixture back into the main bowl, continuing to stir.  This is called "tempering."  You are bringing the eggs up to temperature before adding them to the hot liquid.  This prevents bits of cooked egg from spoiling the texture of the cake.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan.  Fill the bain-marie with boiling water 1/2" up the sides.

Bake for 45 minutes.  the center will still look wet when you pull it out, but it will continue baking for a while even after you've removed it from the oven and will set up when chilled. 

Leave the cake in the pan to chill.  Let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then chill for at least 4 hours or overnight in the refrigerator to set. 

To remove from pan, let the bottom rest in hot water for 2 minutes.  Then use a knife dipped in hot water to run around the edge and loosen.  turn over on a serving dish and let loosen/fall.  Cut with a sharp knife dipped in hot water between slices.  See notes above for toppings/garnish.  Store in fridge up to 1 week. 

Note:  Baker brand baking chocolate is listed as gluten-free as of the 2012 Cecelia's Marketplace guide.  Check with the manufacturers because baking chocolates rarely label for gluten. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Four Agreements of Body Acceptance (Part 4)

This is part Four of my series applying the concepts from the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz to self acceptance and body acceptance.  You can read the previous parts here: 

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 4

Fourth Agreement:  "Always Do Your Best" (Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements")

The key part of this agreement is the idea that your best is not a constant, because you are not a machine.  It is okay if your 100% today is very different from your 100% last week.  It is important that you give yourself credit for what you can do today.  In body acceptance, your best today might be going to a protest rally, shaming the haters, standing up to every body-negative message you encounter.  On the other hand, your best might be getting through your day without actually killing someone. 

Christine Miserandino is a writer who came up with what's now called the "spoon" theory.  She was using the analogy to describe the very limited energy available to her as someone living with Lupus, but it has since been adopted by many auto-immune and pain disorder sufferers including those with Fibromyalgia and Celiac. She described her day to a friend in a cafe' in terms of a handful of spoons.  Each activity in her day costs her one or mores spoons, from waking up and showering, to doing the dishes, to dealing with a friend's trouble.  At the end of the day, with one spoon left and many different people and chores bidding for it, she has to make serious choices about what she is capable of accomplishing and what she needs to let go. 

The spoons, of course, represent a unit of energy.  The energy can be any combination of physical, mental, and emotional energy depending on the person and the day.  You may have days when your brain is going a mile-a-minute but you are too physically exhausted or emotionally overwhelmed to really act on your trains of thought.  Or, you may be physically restless but feel like you're thinking through a fog.  If you do suffer from a disorder that saps your physical and emotional energy, the number of "spoons" you can allot to loving and accepting your body may be very limited. 

But everyone, whether or not they have an identified disorder, does have a finite amount of physical, mental and emotional energy each day. Through media, ads, and societal pressure we are sometimes fooled into thinking that it's possible to go through life giving the same or greater smiling 100% every day without fail or discouragement. I have never personally met or heard of a person with no off-days. Have you? I have some days when I feel like I can conquer the world, write a novel and declutter the house in the same afternoon.  On those days, body acceptance is easy.  I can laugh off negative body messages with scorn and engage the haters with cool confidence.  I have other days when a casual fat joke in a television show or a billboard for bariatric surgery will send me into a dark, unshakable, pessimistic funk for the rest of the day.  On the latter days, my best is to simply be forgiving of myself, avoid shaming messages as much as possible, and seek out support from loved ones.  Most days are somewhere in-between.  I suspect that's fairly typical. 

So in deciding to yourself what your "best" effort is towards body acceptance, be careful of setting static or absolute goals for each day.  People with pain disorders know that they often don't know when a flare-up will arrive until it does, and the rest of us could wake up any morning with a cold, a bad night's sleep, or generally an inexplicably crappy mood. The discouragement of not reaching a goal is the worst possible addition you can make on an already discouraging day.  Instead of saying "tomorrow I will accomplish XYZ," it might be helpful to set a sliding scale of goals, where you include some body-love activities that come very easily to you and some that are more difficult.  That way, you can decide how much you do based on what you actually can do. On a low-energy day, reward yourself for the little things.  On a high-energy day, tackle something bigger.  Either way, you find something to feel good about.  Just be honest with yourself about what constitutes your best.