Recipe: Friendly ghosts
Enshrouded in meringue, these chewy date and nut treats are oh-so-sweet.
Makes about 2 dozen
(1¾ x 2¼- to 2½-inch-tall) "ghosts"
Enshrouded in meringue, these chewy date and nut treats are oh-so sweet. Note: For a quick and more kid-friendly option, omit the filling.
Prep talk: Because meringue quickly attracts moisture, package these cookies in airtight containers as soon as they’ve cooled. Store at room temperature up to 1 week. Even if properly stored, the cookies may still get sticky due to their high fruit content. In this case, re-dry in a 225 degree F oven, if desired.
1 cup dried pitted dates (stems removed), finely chopped
1½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons candied orange peel, finely chopped
1½ tablespoons Grand Marnier or other premium orange liqueur
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons pecan halves, toasted and finely chopped
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves
4 large egg whites, room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sifted superfine sugar
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
About ½ tablespoon miniature chocolate chips (or about 4 dozen chips, 2 per cookie, for the “eyes”)
1 Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (If you have two ovens, preheat both. The meringue needs to be baked immediately or it softens and deflates. The cookies will also dry more evenly with one cookie sheet per oven. If you don’t have two ovens, you’ll need to make a second batch of meringue to coat the cookies on the second cookie sheet. But do so only after the first sheet is out of the oven.)
2 Mix the Date-Nut Filling. Combine the dates, orange zest, juice, peel, and liqueur in a medium (3-quart) nonreactive (stainless steel or coated) saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the dates have softened and all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Cook the mixture another 3 to 5 minutes to dry it further. Stir regularly to prevent scorching. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped pecans and spices. Cool the mixture completely before shaping.
3 Portion the filling into small mounds using a level 1- to 11⁄8-inch (#100) scoop or 1 level teaspoon per mound. Roll the mounds between your palms to form uniform ¾-inch balls and arrange them evenly around the perimeter of each cookie sheet. (It will be easier to add the chocolate chip eyes to the cookies in Step 6 if the cookies are arranged this way.)
4 Mix the Meringue Cloak. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whip attachment. (Note: Be sure the whites are at room temperature, as cold meringue is more likely to crack in the heat of the oven. The bowl, whip attachment, and all mixing utensils should also be completely free of fat, or the egg whites will not stiffen.) Beat on low speed until the whites are frothy. Turn the mixer to medium speed and gradually add the superfine sugar, no more than 1 tablespoon at a time. Quickly scrape down the sides of the bowl and then turn the mixer to high speed. Continue beating until the whites are very stiff and glossy and the sugar has completely dissolved, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the cornstarch evenly over the top and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds longer.
5 Fit a pastry bag with a large (¾-inch) 8- to 10-pronged star tip and fill with meringue. Work on one cookie at a time, but work quickly before the meringue deflates. Hold the bag perpendicular to the date ball with the pastry tip directly touching the top, and press so the meringue covers as much of the ball as possible.
Slowly lift the pastry bag straight up, still applying pressure, to make a ghost that stands 2¼ to 2½ inches tall; then pull up quickly, without applying pressure, to create a peak. Repeat with the remaining meringue.
6 For the ghosts' eyes, carefully place two mini chocolate chips on the side of each cookie, about one-third of the way from the cookie top. (Insert the tips of the chocolate chips into the meringue so that the round bottoms are left exposed.) Gently press the chips into the meringue with the tip of a paring knife.
7 Bake until bone-dry to the touch but only minimally discolored, about 1½ to 2 hours. ( Note: Drying time varies significantly with ambient humidity. Bake toward the longer end of the spectrum on rainy days.) Immediately transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before storing.
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Excerpted from Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year by Julia M. Usher. Copyright 2009 by Gibbs Smith. Excerpted with permission by Gibbs Smith. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.