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EATING well

Lighten up with meringue cookies

Even if you avoid baking all year long, there's a very good chance the allure of the holidays will seduce you into having a go at a batch of cookies.

If possible, it's best to keep in mind Julia Child's motto: Everything in moderation. Go ahead and savor those cookies, just don't be a monster about it.

Of course, if you do happen to overdo it, you'll be better off if you snub the usual dough boys in favor of a lean and luscious gem like these chocolate-dipped coconut meringue drops.

Each one is like a candy bar in a cookie suit. The hero of this story? Egg whites. They bind together the other ingredients — the coconut and dried cranberries — and provide a nice chewy texture, all without adding any fat. Yes, there's fat in the coconut and the chocolate, but the overall fat and calorie content is lower here than in butter-based cookies.

This is one of those recipes for which the fresher the egg, the better. Fresh egg whites boast more body than older ones, adding greater volume and stability to your cookies. The whites and yolks should be separated when the eggs are cold. But wait until the whites reach room temperature before beating them.

Though many of us separate egg whites from yolks using the cracked egg shell halves as little cups, it's safer to employ those even more basic tools — your hands. Your hands, unlike those egg shells, don't have sharp edges, which dramatically reduces the possibility of breaking the yolks. The quickest way to warm your whites to room temperature is to put them in a clean bowl, then put that bowl into a larger bowl of hot water.

If you don't already own an oven thermometer, you might consider getting one. These cookies need to be baked at 275 degrees, and some ovens just don't work well at such a low temp. Though my own oven needed to be fiddled with again and again, my thermometer kept the job on track.

By the way, those of you who regularly bake up meringues as white as snow should know that this isn't that type of meringue. It is meant to be beige and chewy, not white and crispy.

Likewise, the note of tangy bitterness provided by the dark chocolate is meant to offset this confection's overall sweetness. The proof, of course, is in the cookie. My daughter, who is no fan of coconut, dogged these chocolate-dipped meringue drops.

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED COCONUT MERINGUE DROPS

1 cup dried cranberries

2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

4 large egg whites, room temperature

Pinch of salt

Pinch of cream of tartar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray and dust with flour, shaking off the excess.

In a food processor, pulse the cranberries until finely chopped. Set aside.

Spread the coconut on a third baking sheet or in a roasting pan. Bake on the oven's middle shelf until golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool. Reduce the oven to 275 degrees.

Once the coconut has cooled, in a medium bowl combine it with the cranberries.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites with the salt, cream of tartar and vanilla until they form soft peaks. Add the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in the coconut-cranberry mixture. Drop rounded tablespoons of the batter, 1 inch apart, on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the meringue drops are beige (they will be soft at the center). Put the sheet pans on cooling racks and let the meringue drops cool completely.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a gentle simmer. Set a larger stainless bowl over the saucepan, then add the chocolate. Heat the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until melted. One at a time, dip the bottoms of the cookies into the chocolate, then set chocolate side up on parchment to cool. To set the chocolate faster, the cookies can be refrigerated.

Store the cookies in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Nutritional information per cookie: 50 calories (25 calories from fat, 50 percent of total calories), 3g fat (2g saturated, 0g trans fats), 0mg cholesterol, 7g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 5g sugar, 1g protein, 10mg sodium.

Makes 5 dozen.

Sara Moulton, Associated Press

Lighten up with meringue cookies 11/30/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 3:30am]
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