Q: What do you get if you cross a turkey with an octopus?
A: A leg for everyone at Thanksgiving.
Though I'm sure the reality of an eight-legged turkey would be horrifying, the old joke does remind me that I sometimes think the mad scientists are putting their efforts in the wrong place. Pesticide-resistant corn? Tomatoes that won't soften after ripening? Really, if we're going to tinker with genetic codes to produce Frankenfood, the least it could do is solve some culinary dilemmas.
I know it's petty, but I'm sure I can't be the only cook who has ever fantasized about eggs that are all yolk and no white. I'd even settle for consistently double-yolked eggs. Or eggs with a smaller quantity of white. Something, anything to avoid the Tupperware container of leftover egg whites that inevitably ends up in my fridge after I make ravioli or lemon curd.
I know there are solutions. Though I think egg-white omelettes are an affront to breakfast, and find the texture of meringue kisses to be unpleasantly Styrofoam-like, I can make gnudi after I stuff my ravioli, using the egg whites as a binder. Or, if I'm in the mood for something sweet, I can whip up a pavlova.
Unfortunately, freezer space tends to be at a premium after I've made ravioli, so gnudi are difficult to store, and a whole pavlova is a bit much for individual consumption. And so I still find myself needing new ways to get rid of those damn leftover whites.
The latest idea I've seized upon is inspired by macarons, those jewel-toned French petits fours, albeit with considerably less precision. A stiff meringue batter, when blended with crushed nuts, dolloped onto trays, and baked in a hot oven, produces a cookie that has a light, crisp shell, and a chewy, pliable interior. They are on the sweet side, but they're light, and they're perfect for an afternoon snack with a cup of tea.
On second thought, would someone give the mad scientists a call? Tell them they can go back to tinkering with the DNA of corn and tomatoes. The eggs are fine just the way they are.
There is no fixed list of nuts or flavorings for this recipe. I'm fond of almonds with citrus peel, and hazelnuts with cocoa (pictured above), but feel free to use whatever catches your imagination.
(For every egg white, you'll get about half a dozen macarons. Will keep in an airtight tin for a week or two, though they will start to dry out like classic meringues if you leave them for too long.)
This isn't so much a recipe as a ratio. For every one egg white you're trying to use up, you want one-third of a cup of sugar, and one-third of a cup of nuts. If using cocoa powder, add one tablespoon per egg white. If using any kind of essence, add a half-teaspoon per egg white. And if using fresh citrus zest, one lemon or orange's worth is enough for three or four egg whites.
Once you've figured out your math, dump the nuts in a food processor and blitz until crushed. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line several baking trays with parchment paper.
If you have a stand mixer or other mechanical mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar and let the machine work its magic. If you, like me, are doing this the old-fashioned way, dump the egg whites in a big bowl, add a pinch of salt, and get to work with your balloon whisk.
Once your egg whites are stiff, beat in the sugar a little at a time, followed by whatever flavorings you're using. Add the crushed nuts, and fold them in with a spatula.
Glop golf-ball sized dollops of batter onto your baking tray using a measuring cup or a big spoon, leaving space in between for the macarons to spread. Bake for twelve to fifteen minutes, or until hard to the touch. Allow the macarons to rest on the baking tray for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool. Serve with tea or coffee.