Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Blank Slate

Egg whites. Say no more...egg whites are, second only to the little critters commonly known as yeast, probably my favorite baking ingredient. Yes, yes, yes, of course I love chocolate...but I don't think of chocolate as an's more of an essential part of life. Chocolate is, depending on the day, a craving, a medicine, a vice, an indulgence, an overindulgence, a need. Egg whites, I daresay, are rarely any of those things, yet they are truly wondrous..

I'm not talking about that flat, rubbery flap that surrounds the yolk on a fried egg. Yes, certainly that is an egg white...but that is a sad example of this multifaceted ingredient. Start with the act of separating the yolk from the white. We probably all were taught to slosh the egg between the two halves of the jagged, sharp, broken egg shell, letting the white drop into a bowl while the yolk is transferred back and forth. That's one way to do it, but let me offer an alternative that is more effective, safer and so much more fun...First, watch the beautiful movie The Hours and take note when Meryl Streep is separating eggs as she prepares for the party...instead of using egg shells to separate the yolks/whites, she uses her hands. Her hands! The whites fall into the bowl below as she gently moves the egg from hand to hand, and she is left cradling the yolk in her palm. That is how to separate an egg. Why? (other than the fact that Meryl Streep does it that way?) 1) You are much less likely to burst the yolk on a sharp corner of shell; B) in the unlikely event that you are dealing with a salmonella-coated egg shell, you are not going to repeatedly dip your egg white in contaminated shell as you pour it back and forth between halves, and 3) it is completely sensual and hands-on to handle a raw egg like that. Love it. Love it.

For those who are fat-phobic, egg whites are a gift. Other than a few assorted minerals, an egg white is about simply about 10% protein and about 90% water. Who can argue with that?!

But that is not why I put egg whites near the top of my list. Egg whites are a blank slate, a canvas, a medium, a slimy bowl of culinary possibility. Think about it...souffles (savory and sweet), pavlovas, meringue, 7-minute frosting, divinity, marshmallows, buttercream, name but a few of the foods that have egg albumin as their central pivotal ingredient. Angel Food Cake, for heaven's sake! Egg whites are the key, but without screaming "taste me, taste me, I'm an egg white!!!" And it is that transparency and versatility that makes it a star for me. Kinda like Meryl Streep.

So it is only fitting that one of my all-time favorite cookies is made with, of course, egg whites. The french macaroon is a simple little cookie that not only is the first thing that I made at culinary school that excited me about the life beyond bread, but it is also taking the baking world by storm. These little sandwich cookies have been around for a century or more, but a food blog isn't a food blog until it has featured some version of them, and there are bakeries in some of the foodier cosmopolitan areas that make only french macaroons. A combination of egg white, sugar, ground nuts, and a flavoring...that's it. Yes, seriously, that's IT. Try them, fall in love with them, try different versions, and celebrate the magic that is the egg white.

Oh, and I assure you that this post was not sponsored by the Egg White Council of North America.

Espresso Macaroons
(from the beautiful blog: Tartelette)
Egg whites...............................90 grams
White Sugar.............................30 grams
Powdered Sugar.......................200 grams
Almond Meal...........................110 grams
Espresso Powder...........................1 tsp
1. Whip egg whites till they foam. Gradually add the white sugar and continue to whip until it forms a glossy but soft meringue. Stop beating before the meringue looks dry.
2. Mix together the powdered sugar, almond meal, and espresso powder. Quickly fold the dry ingredients into the meringue. Stop just when all the dry is incorporated into the meringue. (The mixture should flatten when piped out - if it doesn't, give it a few more folds.)
3. Pipe the mixture into a Silpat into 1 1/2 inch circles. Let sit for 30-45 minutes, to dry slightly on the top.
4. Bake at 325 for 12-14 minutes.
5. Let cool before removing from the Silpat.
6. Sandwich two of the cookies together with a small amount of buttercream.

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