Welcome to the Alpha Bakers bake-a-long, an online project where a group of food bloggers bake our way through The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Most of the recipes made during this project will not be shared, but I will post my commentary followed by a full photo tutorial.
This week's selection - Meringue Birch Twigs. Long, crispy, incredibly delicate meringue cookies that are drizzled with horizontal streaks of dark chocolate.
Optional ingredients and/or equipment suggested - pastry brush.
How do they taste - Delicately sweet and light as air. They melt in your mouth. The addition of French raspberry essence is very subtle and I think the cookies would have been equally tasty without it.
How do they look - Stunning. When have you seen a more elegant cookie? I have been waiting for this recipe to come up in the rotation since I first spotted the photo in the book.
Level of difficulty - For me, they were easy, but I imagine they could be challenging for someone who isn't comfortable using a piping bag. But remember, chocolate covers a multitude of sins.
Were the directions clear - For the most part. I baked these on both parchment and silpat liners. The twigs baked on parchment were much easier to release without breakage because the offset spatula slid easily between the twigs and parchment paper, but it did not slide easily between the twigs and silpat (it stuck and jumped a lot - breaking the twigs along the way). Also, the directions say to drizzle the twigs before loosening from the parchment or silpat, but that would mean dragging the offset spatula through the chocolate drizzle overflow, which would make a huge mess so I placed my twigs on a rack before drizzling.
What would I do differently next time - I would definitely not bake these on silpats - the metal offset simply doesn't glide smoothly enough to release the twigs without causing mass casualties. I'd also probably eliminate the raspberry flavoring - I don't think it's needed. I might like to try another flavor like almond or strawberry, which both pair nicely with chocolate.
Note - Even though I'm an experienced baker, I still managed to break about 40% of these twigs (I tell you, they break if you look at them the wrong way). If I make them again, I'll plan to make an extra batch. For the record, one batch made about 40 twigs that were piped horizontally on the sheet pan (that's before breakage).
Okay, here's my photo tutorial.
Meringue is made with egg whites and cream of tartar.
It's kind of hard for a large stand mixer to break up a small number of egg whites so I help it along by hand whisking the whites until they get foamy before I place the bowl on the mixer. Don't forget to add the cream of tartar - it will prevent the whites from over-whipping or breaking.
For flavor we're going to need superfine sugar, pure vanilla extract, and optional French raspberry essence.
Whip the whites until soft peaks form, then add the sugar slowly and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Add the vanilla and optional raspberry essence as well.
Rose says you can use another flavor of essence if you like. I think almond or strawberry would be nice, but you could easily omit the extra flavoring and just go with the vanilla.
Stiff peaks achieved!
Such a pretty swirl of meringue - I just had to take a photo.
Place the meringue mixture in a pastry bag fitted with a round pastry tip. I actually had to use a large ziptop bag because I'm out of pastry bags. I normally wouldn't suggest such a substitution because ziptop bag have a tendency to break at the seams when you squeeze them, but this mixture is so light and easy to pipe, I didn't have any trouble.
My meringue had a lot of small air bubbles. I suspect that's because I didn't pipe it right away because I lost time looking for my pastry bags. I wasn't too worried though - I knew the chocolate drizzle would cover a lot of defects. On to the piping.
Place a dot of meringue in each corner of the sheet pan to glue the parchment paper down. It pains me to say this, but I wouldn't suggest using a silpat to bake these twigs because it's almost impossible to glide an offset spatula between the silpat and baked twigs to release them from the silpat. Think about how silpats cling to the metal sheet pan - an offset spatula is made of metal and it too clings to the silpat, skipping and jumping and breaking the twigs along the way. More on that later.
When you're ready to pipe the twigs, hold your pastry bag about an inch above the parchment and allow gravity to take over as you pipe a steady stream of meringue. If you squeeze too fast, the meringue will look lumpy. If you squeeze too slow, the stream of meringue will break (look at the twig near the top of the photo above).
If you have any pointy spots at the end of your twigs, you can flatten them with a pastry brush that's been dipped into water. A finger works too.
My twigs are ready to go in the oven. These babies are going to bake in a low oven for more than an hour, then the heat gets turned off and they rest in the oven without opening the door for 2 full hours.
After the 2-hour rest time, remove from oven and allow to cool completely before drizzling with chocolate.
The directions say to drizzle with chocolate before sliding an offset spatula under the twigs to release them, but I suggest loosening the twigs from the sheet pan first, then place them on a cooling rack before drizzling with chocolate. Enjoy!
Links for more Alpha Bakers Photo Tutorials
- Nov 19, 2015 The Hazelnut Praline Cookies that Never Were
- Sep 1, 2015 TBB - Flaky Cream Cheese Scones
- Aug 23, 2015 TBB - Woody's Black and White Brownies
- Jul 1, 2015 TBB - Praline Meringue Ice Cream Sandwiches
- Jun 23, 2015 Ricotta Loaf - The Bread Bible
- Jun 4, 2015 TBB - French Orange Cream Tart
- May 19, 2015 TBB - Double Chocolate Oriolos
- May 15, 2015 Touch of Grace Biscuits - The Bread Bible
- May 7, 2015 TBB - Blu-Rhu Mini Pies
- Apr 27, 2015 TBB - Lemon Jammies
- Apr 2, 2015 Pita Pizzas - The Bread Bible
- Mar 22, 2015 TBB - Luxury Oatmeal Cookies
- Mar 15, 2015 TBB - Sour Cherry Pie (Pi Day)
- Mar 9, 2015 TBB - Caramel Buns
- Mar 4, 2015 TBB - Hamantaschen (Purim)
- Feb 23, 2015 TBB - Lemon Posset Alma
- Feb 15, 2015 TBB - Chocolate Pavarotti with Wicked Good Ganache
- Feb 11, 2015 TBB - Golden Orange Panettone with Chocolate Sauce
- Feb 9, 2015 Panettone Delay
- Feb 2, 2015 TBB - Swedish Apricot Walnut Bread
- Jan 26, 2015 TBB - Gingersnaps
- Jan 19, 2015 Biga Fail
- Jan 12, 2015 TBB - Black and Blueberry Pie
- Jan 5, 2015 TBB - Chocolate Cuddle Cake