Sadly, I've come to realize that even big-money cookbooks like Baggett's are not without flaws, some of them major. DH has never stopped ridiculing me for trying what was supposedly the first brownie recipe in America. The resulting brownies (called "Lowney's Brownies" in the book) were so bad that after tasting them we actually threw the entire batch away. (Call me crazy, but I think that if you're going to publish a lousy recipe for purely historical reasons, you should include some kind of warning.)
I came across another blooper last Thursday, when I tried to prepare "Chocolate Hearts" for an oneg shabbat at a friend's house. The recipe is unusual: it makes use of confectioner's sugar in place of granulated sugar and flour and uses egg whites instead of whole eggs for something of a cross between meringues and rolled cookies. An interesting idea in principle, but when I combined the ingredients, the resulting "dough" was roughly the consistency of slightly running frosting. After several stubborn attempts to roll it (resulting in a pile of chocolatey wax paper and a minor tantrum), I dumped in the rest of the bag of confectioner's sugar and managed to turn what remained of my batter into a small batch of brittle, overly sweet brown hearts covered with white powder. I read the recipe over and over, trying to figure out what I'd done wrong, to no avail. I'd followed the directions to the letter.
The next morning, I awoke with a new sense of clarity. Yet again, I had been led astray by my persistant belief in the infallibility of cookbooks. Once I acknowledged that the recipe was wrong, the solution to my troubles became instantly clear: corn starch! I didn't have any corn starch, though, so I used potato starch left over from last Pesach. To avoid the messy appearance of white on brown, I rolled the dough in cocoa powder and dipped the cookie cutter in cocoa between uses. For the product of so many compromises, my little cookies were astonishingly good, if I do say so myself. When you first bite into them, they're soft, rich and chocolatey, like a brownie (not Lowney's), but then they melt in your mouth like cotton candy. I've decided to call my cookies "sweet nothings" because of this etherial quality, and because I made them with a one-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, so they came out very small:
(They're not so blurry in real life -- I'm still learning how to use our new digital camera.)
Another great thing about these cookies is that they can be kosher for Passover if they are made with Passover confectioner's sugar or potato starch. They would also make nice additions to mishloach manot packages.
Here is the recipe. Feel free to modify it -- I'm not infallible.
Yield: About 50 1-inch cookies
3 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken up or coarsely chopped
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened American-style cocoa powder, plus more for rolling.
1/3 cup corn or potato starch (plus more, if needed)
1/3 cup egg whites (about 3 large eggs) at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease several baking sheets.*
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, microwave the chocolate for 1 minute. Stir well. Microwave for an additional 30 seconds, stir, and repeat until the chocolate is mostly melted, then let the residual heat finish the job. (Alternatively, in a small, heavy saucepan, melt the chocolate over low heat, stirring frequently; be very careful not to burn. Immediately remove from heat.) Let cool to warm.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on low speed, beat together the chocolate, about one-third of the powdered sugar, the cocoa powder, and the starch until well blended. Gradually add about one-third of the egg whites and beat until evenly incorporated. Add another one-third of the powdered sugar, then another one-third of the egg whites, and beat until smooth. Repeat the process, adding the remaining one-third of the powdered sugar, then the remaining one-third of the egg whites, and the vanilla. Increase the speed to high and beat for 2 minutes more, or until very smooth and well blended. Let the dough stand for 5 minutes to allow the egg whites to become more fully absorbed. At this point, if the dough seems too sticky, beat in a bit more corn or potato starch. If it seems too crumbly, beat in a little bit of water.
Set aside several tablespoons of cocoa powder on a plate or paper towel. Dust hands lightly with the cocoa. Roll about one third of the dough in the cocoa powder, then roll it between hands so that it forms a ball. Place between two sheets of wax paper and roll to about 1/4 inch thick. Peel off the top sheet of wax paper. Using a one inch heart-shaped cookie cutter,** cut out the cookies, dipping the cutter into cocoa powder between uses. Using a metal spatula or paring knife, carefully transfer the cookies to the baking sheets. Reroll any dough scraps. Continue cutting out the cookies until all the dough is used.
Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until dry on the surface but soft in the centers when lightly pressed. Slide the cookies onto a wire rack. Let stand until completely cooled.
Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
*I used parchment paper in accordance with Baggett's instructions, but some of the cookies stuck. Greasing the sheets might work better.
** Baggett calls for a 2 or 2 1/4 inch heart-shaped cutter. You can use any shape, of course, but I don't recommend using anything larger than two or three inches, since the dough is very delicate and large cookies have a greater chance of breaking while being removed from cookie sheet.
(Cross-posted to Kosherblog.)