I’m not much of an arm-chair athelte. Why would I watch a bunch of people on TV play a sport when I could go out and play it myself? There’s too much awesome stuff in the world to see with your own eyes. This helps explain my love of hiking and backpacking, but it leads into the one exception of my “I’d rather be a participant than an observer” credo: mountaineering.
Specifically, the crazy kind of mountaineering that takes you above 8,000 meters (aptly, however cheesily, called the death zone). I cannot get enough of reading, watching, and hearing about others’ experiences on the world’s fourteen highest mountains. As gung-ho as I am about getting into nature and not seeing but experiencing sights for myself, I am perfectly content to let other people climb these mountains for me, so long as I get to live vicariously through them. I think it has something to do with the insane death rate among the people who do. What possesses someone to climb a mountain that has a 37% death rate??? Or be involved in a day where twenty people try to summit and eleven of them die???
There are a zillion things that can kill you: unexpected weather, your body eating itself, hypoxia, hypothermia, hypoxic hypothermia (yes, the ailments are ganging up on your now), becoming incapacitated to the point you can’t descend, high-altitude edemas (pulmonary or cerebral: take your pick!), avalanches, getting crushed by calving seracs and glaciers, the common cold (your immune system is useless in the death zone), frostbite (on second thought, that’ll probably just maim you), falling off the mountain, or getting swallowed up in a crevasse. That last one is what happens when the glacier decides to eat you!
So, given the hazards, I think that these little confections are going to be the closest I come to summitting (or dying on) the likes of K2 or Annapurna. These chewy chocolate meringues are my attempt to make fabulous cookies sans dairy and soy and conveniently use up the egg whites left over from my aioli-making binges. You certainly couldn’t take them up the mountain with you because they would be smooshed in half a second (just picking them up can be enough to make them collapse) but their jagged, cracked-open surface would be a constant reminder of the perils you face. Their delicacy also serves to keep the fragility of those crevasse-coverings in the forefront of your mind. One must tread carefully in such an environment. Luckily, I’ve yet to hear of anyone killed while tackling these cookies, so if you’re like me and you like to leave the crazy mountaineering to other folks, these will feel right at home next to you as you’re curled up on the couch with your nose stuck in your favorite tale of disaster, bravery, and heroics above 26,000 feet.
Adapted from Bakearella
Makes about 60 cookies
This recipe was updated on July 24, 2013. I doubled the cocoa powder to make a more intensely chocolatey meringue.
- If you can get your hands on vanilla bourbon sugar, it does beautifully in these cookies. Omit the vanilla extract and do everything else the same. This sugar tends to be coarser than granulated white sugar, but will still dissolve well in the egg whites.
- Don’t delay between batches. The meringue will start to deteriorate fairly quickly otherwise.
- These don’t spread anywhere near as much as a typical cookie, so don’t be shy about packing them onto the pan. My sheet pans (technically half-sheet pans) fit 24 with no problem.
You will need:
- 1 cup of egg whites (about 6 or 7)
- 2 1/4 cups (16oz) sugar
- 10 tbsp (2 oz / 60 g) natural cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- A couple of good pinches of flaky sea salt (optional)
- 6 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped or mini-chips
- 4 oz (125 g) cocoa nibs (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Put an inch or two of water to simmer in a saucepan.
- In a clean, dry, heat-proof bowl, whisk together egg whites and sugar. Set over (but not let the bowl touch) simmering water in a saucepan. Whisk constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and remove from heat. (I tested to make sure I didn’t feel any sugar granules.) Stir in the vanilla extract.
- Beat the eggs on high using your mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat until stiff and glossy. Sift the cocoa over the meringue and sprinkle the salt, chocolate, and cocoa nibs (if you’re using them) on top. Then, fold together gently with a spatula until combined.
- Use a 1.5-tablespoon (or 1.5-inch diameter) scoop to drop even amounts of batter onto the prepared baking sheets about two inches apart. Bake for about 8-9 minutes. Rotate the pans and bake for another 8-9 minutes until the cookies are fluffy and full of cracks.
- Transfer the cookies, leaving them on the parchment paper, to wire racks to cool. If you want crispier cookies, eat them fast. If you prefer softer and chewier cookies, let them sit for a couple of hours before digging into them. Cookies will keep about 3 days.