- light and crisp cookie alternative
- low in sugar, low carbs, & gluten free
- 1 Weight Watchers Points Plus for 2 meringues!
If we are going to be friends, there are three things you should know (in no particular order):
- I have decided traditional American cuisine is tragically lacking in recipes featuring cardamom.
- I like to experiment with ingredients that, at first glance, taste, or smell, seem unappealing.
- When it comes to baked sweets, my go-to treats are oat topped fruit crisps and mini meringues.
I had been curious about cacao nibs for some time (you may say cocoa nibs if you like). A few months ago our family spent a frosty Sunday afternoon window shopping on the lower level of the Pike Place Market. After peaking into a few of the more eclectic shops, we came upon a cozy store selling cacao products both edible and cosmetic. The smell of freshly roasted beans was intoxicating – especially in contrast to the fish stalls, and urine stained corners, we had to pass to get to the lower level, but it’s all part of the experience.
I was all a flutter at the prospect of finally trying this new to me ingredient. Well, sort of new to me. I had never before tasted a roasted cacao bean but I have tasted the fruit of a cacao pod. Straight off the tree in fact.
When I was 13 I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Costa Rica on a school field trip. There were 28 students and three chaperones. That I have no racy stories from the trip is proof positive that I am as square as they come.
But, I digress… again.
One morning during the trip, we boarded our tour bus and wound up some very bumpy crumbling roads through the rainforest. We were going for a hike up a small mountain. I was dreading the hike. At 13 years old I was as tall as I am now, easily 70 pounds heavier (if not more), and terribly out of shape. Before we even began it was uncomfortably hot and humid. I could feel myself going into fight or flight mode.
We trudged up the trail. I have no idea how far we hiked. Based on what I know about my fitness level then, compared to my ability to complete physical tasks now, I’d say it was not a long hike. I focused every ounce of strength I had on putting one foot in front of the other. Along the way I drained my small water bottle. I knew I was on the trip of a lifetime, but I was miserable.
There were guides hiking with us who peppered the conversation with information about our surroundings. It really was beautiful. As I remember it, the trail followed a line between protected rainforest and land cleared for agriculture. The view in direction was brilliant green.
As we scuffed up the path one of the guides stopped the small group I was trailing. He leaned out into the trees and grabbed a lumpy football shaped fruit. I was happy to take a break, but I had seen Invasion of the Pod People, and this fruit looked creepily like the incubator of a new humanoid clone.
Inside the pod was not a tiny alien creature but rows of large pebbles coated with a gooey milky-white substance. They were cacao pods! The pebbles were the seeds that could become chocolate! He held out the pod so we could all pluck out a pebble then instructed us to suck the gooey flesh off the seeds. Eager for a sweet treat, we popped them into our mouths.
Instantly noises of surprise and displeasure rippled through the group. As it turns out, cacao fruit does not taste like Hershey bars. It was a bit sweet but the slippery-slimy texture was a shock to my sheltered teenage palate. I tried to appreciate the opportunity to try a new food but the sensation was too foreign for my hot, cotton ball, mouth to process. I palmed the slippery seed and tossed it off the trail into the trees.
These days, I like my treats far less sweet than when I was 13. When given a choice I will often nibble dark chocolate instead of sweeter milk chocolate. Back beneath the Market, I was giddy with excitement at the second chance to sample the bean that had once been nestled inside that slimy film I first tried years before.
The shop assistant pulled out two types of roasted cacao for us to try, nibs and whole beans. The nibs and beans had been roasted the same way but they originated in two different parts of Central America.
At first taste both were intensely bitter. After a moment, the taste expanded into hints of smoke, fruit, and a delightful tease of chocolate liquor. Each had its own flavor nuances. I purchased a small bag of whole beans knowing they would need to be crushed to go into a recipe.
I was over the moon! The rest of the family was a bit skeptical.
Oh, and the poor babysitter, bless her heart, humored me one afternoon by crunching into one of the beans while I was snacking on a few myself. I warned her of the bitterness but assured her it would be a worthwhile experience. The intense flavor was a little too much for her. She winced and squinted for a full minute before gulping down a glass of water.
After this bit of informal research, I concluded that most people probably want to ease into the bitter flavor of cacao nibs. The shocking bitterness can be evened out with the addition of sweet or creamy ingredients.
Recently I was thrilled to find cacao nibs in the bulk bins of my regular supermarket. We have been sprinkling them over ice cream and yogurt. They provide a delightful crunch to these sweet treats. When brainstorming recipes to try with cacao nibs I decided to begin with one of my favorite little cookies and folded a couple spoonfuls into a cardamom laced meringue batter.
Now that I have outed myself as having a bit of a fringe taste preference I feel I should assure you, the rest of the family agreed that cacao nibs were a fabulous addition to these mini meringues.
The cacao nibs keep the meringues from being overly sweet and give each bite a playful little crunch, similar to adding a bit of almond but without the nutty flavor. Including cardamom takes the meringues from unusual to rich and exotic.
Combining three of my favorite cooking tenants into one little treat makes these more than a little tempting. Fortunately, each cookie is only 20 calories, so I can brew up a strong cup of tea, scoop up three or four meringues, and treat myself to a late afternoon indulgence – completely guilt free.
Recommended for this Recipe:
- 3 large egg whites at room temperature
- 1½ cups of powdered sugar, measured then sifted
- 1 TB unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- ¼ tsp fine grain salt
- ¼ tsp cream of tarter
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 3 TB cacao nibs
- Do Ahead:
- Begin by separating the eggs. Place the egg whites into a large, squeaky clean, glass or stainless steal mixing bowl. Discard or save the egg yolks for another use. Let the egg whites come to room temperature while prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350F. If using a pastry bag to shape the meringues prepare the bag with the desired tip and leave it upside down in a large drinking glass with the sides folded down. This way you can easily transfer the meringue to the bag.
- Into a medium bowl: Sift together the sugar, cocoa powder, and cardamom.
- Pre-measure the cacao nibs into a small dish and set them near your mixing station.
- Make the Meringue:
- Sprinkle the room temperature egg whites with the salt and cream of tarter then begin whisking - electric mixers use medium low speed. The eggs should begin to froth up first with large and then smaller and smaller bubbles until the translucent froth becomes dull white foam.
- Continue mixing. Add the vanilla, them use a small (1/4-1/3 cup) measuring cup to slowly add the sugar mixture to the eggs. Be careful not to deflate the bubbles.
- Once the sugar is fully incorporated increase the mixer speed to medium high and continue whisking until the egg whites have become voluminous. They should turn bright shiny white with no visible bubbles and hold their shape in stiff peaks when the whisk is removed. You should be able to hold the bowl upside down over your head with no threat of making a mess. Gently fold in the cacao nibs by bringing a large spoon or silicone scraper down through the middle, across the bottom of the bowl, then up and over again until the nibs are evenly distributed through the meringue batter.
- Pipe (or spoon) the meringue on to the prepared baking sheets in small mounds about an inch and a half in diameter. Space them with about an inch all around (they puff out a bit while baking). You should be able to get 20 to a standard baking sheet with a few extra dotted in the intersections if need be.
- Bake the meringues for 20 minutes in the warm oven but prop the door slightly ajar with the handle of a wooden spoon to vent the humidity. After minutes turn off the oven and leave the meringues for an additional hour with the door ajar.
- The meringues are done when they have a firm crisp shell but are soft just in the center. Once they have cooled completely (You may leave them in the oven with the door closed.) transfer them to an air tight container where they should keep for about a week.