Meeting the Flourless Chocolate Cookie Fairy

Friday afternoon and I'm thoroughly enjoying the current above-average April temperatures that make it feel more like June. It had been a long week and I'm catching up with some magazines, a few new cookbooks and a glass of white wine. Phone rings, and it's Mister MA, who's decided to invite our friends, the Fonzes, over for dinner without much of a pre-invite spousal consultation.

Flourless chocolate cookies. (Kim O'Donnel)

The cook is really not in the mood for dinner party prep, but Mister MA, now obligated to play host, announces that he will prepare supper but wants to know if the culinary hotline is open for occasional troubleshooting. I step aside and watch him go, go, go, proud of him as he makes marinade for chicken, washes greens for salad ("Yeah, Dude, I know how to make a vinaigrette") and lights the chimney for the grill.

I know he can't cook rice to save his life, so I save him the agony and take the pot into my own hands. As I rinse the grains, I think of the recipe that caught my eye while sunning out on the back porch just a few hours earlier, an intriguing chocolate-y meringue cookie with a chewy texture rather than sawdusty. Hmm -- and flourless, too.

It seemed fitting to embark on this cookie experiment, as the Fonzes were gearing up for Seder at their house the very next evening, and who knows, if the cookies turn out, I can give them my loot and Mama Fonz won't have to make Passover dessert.

As it turns out, Mama Fonz had to stay home because Baby Fonz was down with a nasty cough, Papa Fonz informed us as he entered the back door closest to the kitchen.

While the guys hung out in the yard and monitored the grill, I mixed the cookie batter, which seemed too easy to be true. I was very skeptical that adding egg whites to a batter without beating them would result in anything edible whatsoever, but I did what I was told, no flour, no butter, oil or Kosher margarine, just the fat of the nuts, thank you very much, and just wait and see, young lady. Sure enough, the cookie fairy arrived on the scene, transforming unbeaten egg whites, cocoa, confectioners' sugar and pecans into chocolate fairy dust, in about 30 minutes, start to finish. Chewy, yes sir! And despite my disbelief that cocoa powder would yield enough of a fudgy profile, I was again proven wrong.

The guys plowed through the cookies, so I knew another batch would have to happen -- if only to make sure I wasn't hallucinating from the Friday afternoon sun. Sure enough, the cookies did me right. Now if I could just find a few eager cookie monsters to lighten the load... Fonz? Anyone seen Fonz?

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Francois Payard's Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies
From the April 21, 2008 issue of New York magazine

2 3/4 cups walnut halves (Feel free to reduce amount to 2 ½ cups; I've used pecans with success)
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven golden and fragrant, about seven minutes. Let cool slightly, then transfer nuts to a work surface and coarsely chop.

Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and lower temperature to 320 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk (or combine in an electric mixer on low speed) confectioners' sugar with cocoa powder and salt followed by the chopped nuts.

While whisking (or once you change the speed to medium), add egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not over beat or it will stiffen).

Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds, and bake for about seven minutes, then move pans from front to back and top to bottom, and allow to bake for an additional seven or eight minutes (for a total of 14-16 minutes), until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked.

Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto two wire racks. Let cookies cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to three days.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 21, 2008; 8:43 AM ET Chocolate , Cookies , Gluten Free
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Those look delicious! I love walnuts. I can't wait to try these out.

Congrats to Mr. M.A.... good to know he steps up to the plate when the chef is tired. :)

Posted by: Violet | April 21, 2008 9:27 AM

Hi Kim!

I would just like to point out that you'd have to remove the vanilla extract (alcohol) to make this cookie truly gluten-free. A mom at the playground (daughter has Celiac's disease) pointed this out to me. Wheat/grain products really are everywhere in our diets!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | April 21, 2008 11:07 AM

Hi Kim,

Sorry Mama Fonz couldn't make the impromptu dinner party. Those cookies were amazing although papa fonz ate one of the two cookies brought to cheer up the homebound fonz's. Strongly recommend these delicious cookies! We can definitely take them off your hands for PASSOVER! Happy Pesach. THANKS! :)

Posted by: Mama Fonz | April 21, 2008 11:12 AM

I'm surprised nobody has written in so far to berate you for calling them cookies when everyone knows that real cookies have flour!

Seriously, those really look delicious and I'm hoping to try them this week for Passover. You should know, however, that more observant Jews don't use confectioner's sugar during Passover because it contains some cornstarch.

Posted by: Amy | April 21, 2008 12:13 PM

Gosh, regardless of the flour or not, they look great--and it's chocolate!!! who cares!!!

i need to thank some ppl for some efforts they've put out on my behalf. this is a nice and easy gift. thanks!


Posted by: FlaNboyantEats | April 21, 2008 1:01 PM

do you think you could add chocolate chips? or too heavy?

Posted by: megs | April 21, 2008 1:14 PM

Centre of Nowhere, good point about the vanilla. I need to consult my GF guru, Jules Shepard and ask her what she does.

Amy: The cornstarch piece was the main reason I decided against billing this cookies as Kosher for Passover and let folks decide for themselves if they work within their own religious context. Thanks, tho, for raising the point.
Megs, good question, was wondering the same thing and am concerned that the addition of chips may take away from the chewy factor. Anyone care to weigh in on this chippy matter?
Mama Fonz: Very happy that Papa Fonz shared the loot and I'll see if I can make a special delivery this week.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | April 21, 2008 1:30 PM

Made these last night, just 30 minutes before my dinner party arrived and boy, were they a hit! Rich, chocolate delight with an ooey gooey center had both kids and adults reaching for seconds. Fortunately, I was smart enough to tuck a few aside for me to have later in the week!

Posted by: lrs in Latteland | April 21, 2008 2:04 PM

"Centre of Nowhere, good point about the vanilla. I need to consult my GF guru, Jules Shepard and ask her what she does. "

FYI, there is gluten-free vanilla extract available most everywhere. I notice the big bottle my husband bought from safeway not long ago is labeled "gluten free."

Posted by: reston, va | April 21, 2008 2:18 PM

Ciao Kim!

Per the vanilla extract and gluten-free recipes, usually it is left out.

My question is about the use of vanilla, in general: isn't it used to enhance flavor, much like a teaspoon of salt in a dessert recipe? If that is the case, couldn't a vanilla BEAN (the scrapings of the seeds into the batter/dough) accomplish the same thing if absolutely needed?

Just wondering. Sometimes it is hard to get ahold of real vanilla bean up here. Thanks!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | April 21, 2008 2:23 PM

Reston, VA: I'll have to look, the next time that I need vanilla (not that I need gluten-free, but I'm curious). I have the "Simply Organic" vanilla extract and it lists "organic alcohol" as one of it's ingredients - but nowhere does it say "gluten-free," so I won't be using it for our playground friends.

Thanks for the tip, I'll be looking!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | April 21, 2008 2:27 PM

On the gluten-free vanilla issue, it is good to note that some vanilla extracts are comprised in part of grain alcohol which is not certified as distilled to remove all gluten. Thankfully though, it is now quite easy to find certified "gluten-free" vanilla extract in nearly every grocery or organic market. I even found a gigantic bottle at Costco the other day: Kirkland brand 100% Pure Madagascar Bourbon (distilled) Vanilla, kosher and gf! I use vanilla extract on a near daily basis in my baking, so I am happy to report that gluten-free and vanilla extract are not mutually exclusive.

Posted by: Jules Dowler Shepard | April 21, 2008 3:14 PM

Oh, these sound so cool! Another simple Payard chocolate recipe - see also his chocolate rice krispie treats the Post featured recently.

Another flourless "cookie" I used to make combined sweetened condensed milk, chocolate and nuts. If I can find it, I'll post it.

Also, a reminder on how to make powdered sugar without cornstarch: Place sugar and potato starch in the food processor and let it go until it is completely and utterly pulverized.

Posted by: Fran | April 21, 2008 4:09 PM

Great photo--love the plate/mug!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2008 7:26 PM

Pesadik confectioner's sugar is available, but it's also easy to make at home by running some sugar in the food processor for a while. The cornstarch is to prevent clumping and I don't think it would be necessary if you used the powdered sugar right away, but I wonder if a little potato starch (lots of Jewish households have a box at this time of year!) wouldn't accomplish the same thing.

I'm also thinking that if you're throwing sugar in the food processor anyway, you could include some vanilla sugar in place of the extract.

Posted by: jburka | April 22, 2008 1:37 PM

Off the flourless chocolate cookie topic, Kim, in today's chat, you responded to the poster who sought a nonalcoholic alternative to sherry for her bok choy stir-fry by suggesting Shaoxing wine, because it is a "cooking" wine, not a "drinking" wine. What were you getting at? Both contain alcohol. Under any other circumstances, Shaoxing wine is probably the appropriate ingredient for the proposed recipe, but since she sought something nonalcoholic, I don't get the cooking/drinking distinction.

I probably would have substituted a small amount of Chinkiang or another black/red rice vinegar, diluted 2:1 with water (a cheap supermarket "balsamic" vinegar could substitute for the rice vinegar). It will be a little tangier than the sherry or Shaoxing, but will be tasty.

Posted by: sergio georgini | April 22, 2008 1:51 PM

Is it possible to make these without the nuts? My daughter is allergic to nuts but loves chocolate. Will the absence of nuts ruin the recipe?

Posted by: Rhonda | April 24, 2008 10:57 AM

Hey Rhonda, the nuts are what hold the cookies together, I'm afraid.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | April 24, 2008 11:04 AM

Hey Kim--what a great treat. I've spent many a pre-Passover cooking session whipping egg whites. To the question about nut-free, one of my children has the same issue, I haven't tried it yet but how about cocoanut run through the food processor.

Posted by: Silvermom | April 24, 2008 11:49 AM

Silvermom, I love this idea trying the coconut -- it might just work. Don't puree it too much, tho; you do want some texture. Please let me know if this turns out to be a viable alternative! All best.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | April 24, 2008 12:41 PM

Re: Coconut as substitute for nuts.
Be careful. Make sure person can tolerate coconut. Sometimes still may have the allergic reaction to coconut, as to tree nuts. (My son does. He also has to avoid tropical nut and coconut oils, as they may have the protein in the oil, causing a reaction.)

Posted by: Ruth West | April 24, 2008 4:57 PM

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