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Brutti ma Buoni al Cacao
“Brutti ma buoni” translates to “ugly but good”. I don’t know how these cookies got saddled with such a name, as I don’t find them unattractive in the least. They are meringues (in this case, chocolate meringues) with chunks of bittersweet chocolate and toasted hazelnuts in them; there are as many recipes for these as there are people who bake them.
To ensure good volume of your egg whites when they’re beaten, make sure they’re at room temperature (or slightly warmer). Your bowl and beaters must be completely grease-free, too. The meringue for these cookies is very stiff, but that makes it easier to portion out. Perfect with coffee or tea or for any informal gathering. Brutti ma Buoni will keep at room temperature for a few days if stored airtight. They can be frozen for longer storage, but they are fragile (see directions below) and I think their flavor begins to diminish if they’re frozen for more than a few weeks.
3/4 cup skinned hazelnuts
2/3 cup (about 4 ounces) bittersweet OR semisweet chocolate chunks, no larger than about
1/4 inch on a side
4 egg whites, from eggs graded “large”, at room temperature
1 tsp. cream of tartar
Large pinch of salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2-1/4 cups unsifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
Adjust rack to center of oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place hazelnuts in single layer in shallow, foil-lined baking pan. Toast hazelnuts about 9 to 12 minutes, stirring often, until very fragrant and a light golden brown. Remove from oven. Cool completely before chopping coarsely (this can be done up to 24 hours in advance). In small bowl, combine completely cooled, chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chunks; set aside.
If necessary, heat oven again to 350 degrees F. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper cut to fit. In large bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk beater, beat egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until foamy. Add salt. Gradually increase speed to high and beat until white and greatly increased in volume. Gradually add granulated sugar, reducing mixer speed as you add it, then increasing mixer speed again until the sugar is thoroughly blended in before the next addition.
Repeat procedure with confectioners’ sugar, reducing speed as each addition is put into the meringue, then gradually increasing speed again to blend it in. About halfway through adding confectioners’ sugar, stop the mixer; scrape down bowl and beater with a large spatula before beginning to add remaining sugar. Meringue will be very stiff when all sugar has been added, and it should hold a stiff peak. Add vanilla and beat in thoroughly. Remove bowl from mixer, scraping as much meringue from beater into bowl as possible.
SIFT IN the Dutch process cocoa powder, then carefully fold it in with a large spatula. The meringue will be so stiff that it will take you a couple of minutes to thoroughly blend in the cocoa powder—OK. Once the cocoa powder is thoroughly blended in, and the chocolate chunks and cooled, chopped hazelnuts; fold in just until evenly distributed.
Drop the meringue by heaping teaspoons onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. Make sure to leave some room between the meringues, which will spread as they bake; I use 17 by 12 inch baking sheets here, and place 15 meringues onto each. Bake one sheet at a time in the preheated oven for 11 to 13 minutes, turning back-to-front once about halfway through baking time. The meringues will expand and crack as they bake. The lesser baking time will result in a chewier center, while more baking time will mean a drier and airier meringue throughout. While one panful bakes, continue dropping more meringues onto other prepared cookie sheets; they can stand at room temperature, uncovered, until there is space in the oven for them.
When meringues are done, remove baking sheet to cooling rack. Allow meringues to stand for 1 to 2 minutes, then slide parchment paper, with meringues still on it, to another cooling rack. Allow meringues to stand till completely cooled, then peel from parchment paper (they should peel off very easily).
Store meringues airtight at room temperature for up to three or four days; freeze for longer storage. To freeze, place meringues in single layer on parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet; freeze until frozen through. Stack carefully in freezerproof container; place in freezer where they won’t get crushed. Thaw at room temperature, still in container.
Makes about 3 dozen meringues.