Matt and I got into the habit a few years ago of eating simply during the week and more “festally” (to feast) on the weekend. Several reasons for this. For one, we needed to lose about a hundred pounds between the two of us (and we did – yay) and several chefs we follow had been talking of other cultures living their lives this way and we couldn’t help but notice they were cultures withOUT a major weight problem, as a whole. One of our favorite chefs, Rick Bayless, speaks of this way of eating and living in his book, Fiesta at Rick’s and of the art of the Mexican fiesta:
“…remember that nutritionists craft simple messages for maximum impact. If they’ve deemed a food deleterious, it won’t likely creep onto the beneficial list…even sometimes, even on special occasions. Yet that’s exactly where it should be. Because, if we eat a wide variety of good food–fresh stuff in reasonable portions–there’s a perfect time for everything. For the simple pleasure of a fall apple and for the over-the-top chocolate fudge cake.”
It started to make sense to us that this would be a much easier way to maintain a desired, healthy weight than with the old, tried and not-so-true method of crash dieting, buying late night gym memberships, falling off the diet wagon, overeating, repeat. I came across an amazing book called Supper of the Lamb, in which author Robert Farrar Capon devoted an entire chapter to eating “festally” (to feast) verses eating ferially (simply, meagerly.) I could really quote this entire book, as it’s rich with language about cooking, eating and food that sums up nearly everything I have come to believe. And he is an Episcopal priest, so he says things much more eloquently than I. About festal verses ferial eating, he says:
“Both the ferial and the festal cuisine, therefore, must be seen as styles of unabashed eating. Neither attempts to do anything to food other than render it delectable. Their distinction is grounded, not in sordid dietetic tricks, but in a choice between honest frugality or generous expense…Let us fast, then — whenever we see fit, and as strenuously as we should. But having gotten that exercise out of the way, let us eat. Festally, first of all, for life without occasions is not worth living. But ferially, too, for life is so much more than occasions, and its grand ordinariness must never go unsavored.”
You may begin to seeing a trend with this blog, as I continue to publish weekly recipes. Mondays will almost always be something healthy and light to get you in the right mindset for your week. Fridays will almost always be something more indulgent. I want to stress, however, that eating with a festal attitude does not mean becoming gluttonous a couple days a week. We’ve made that mistake and that, I fear, is another American frame of mind that things have to be BIG and ALL YOU CAN EAT in order to be “fun” or a party type atmosphere. I believe it was a French woman, in the book, French Kids Eat Everything who said, “Oh no, a small piece [of cake], please. If it’s too big, I won’t enjoy it” We may laugh at this prim response, but have you SEEN the French? They don’t exactly have an obesity epidemic and they are known for their indulgent recipes. That, I realize, is an entirely different blog post.
Without further rambling, may I present to you, your weekend indulgence! To be enjoyed with coffee, a friend and WITHOUT a SHRED of guilt. Just make sure you don’t eat too many, or you might find yourself not enjoying them, anymore…
Dark Chocolate Meringue Cookies with Espresso Ganache Filling
For the Meringue Cookies*:
- 6 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3/4 cup Baker’s Sugar (superfine sugar – regular will do fine, too)
- 3/4 cup nut flour (I used almond flour, but you could use any)
- pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 225°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until fine bubbles form. Increase the speed to medium-high and whip until soft peaks form.
Slowly add the sugar and whip until the meringue holds stiff peaks.
In a small bowl, whisk together the nut flour, salt, and cocoa powder. Sprinkle over the meringue and mix for 30 seconds on low speed.
Remove from the mixer and use a spatula to finish folding the ingredients together until you have a smooth, thick, evenly mixed batter.
Using a piping bag or small spatula, spread the batter onto the parchment, spreading to about 2″ circles. Leave about 1″ between the circles. If you’re feeling extra festal and someone is coming to share these cookies who is an avid fan of salt, try sprinkling the tops of the cookies before they bake in this cool espresso fusion salt. I think even a sprinkle of kosher salt would add to it and a sprinkle of salt always helps balance out the richness of any dish.
Bake the discs in the oven for at least 60 minutes. You can then turn off the oven, crack the oven door open, and leave the discs to dry in the oven for a few hours, or up to overnight. This is what I did and they peeled off the parchment paper just fine.
While your cookies are still cooking and/or drying out, get on with making your ganache filling. I just made up a ganache recipe that I thought sounded good. Here were the ingredients:
- 2 cups dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60%)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp Vietnamese cinnamon (seriously the best cinnamon ever)
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp Espresso Powder
Heat the heavy cream over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Place your chocolate chips in a large glass bowl and pour the boiling cream over the chips. Let it sit there for about 5 minutes, then gradually stir with a spatula in the center of the bowl. It will appear like the milk won’t ever fully incorporate into the chocolate. Then, like magic, the center starts to darken into a black silky texture and you just keep stirring and folding and little by little the chocolate mixes beautifully with the cream and you’re left with the most wonderful, glossy texture. This is one of my favorite things to get to experience in the kitchen.
At this point, you have a beautiful ganache. If you wanted, you could let it chill and make yourself some righteous truffles. However, for filling cookies and having a nice texture that won’t leak out everywhere, I chose to add some cinnamon, espresso powder and powdered sugar to thicken the chocolate up a bit, and to make the filling sweeter than the cookie, and add depth to the chocolate flavor (with the espresso powder) which I think is a nice balance. So, add the cinnamon and powdered sugar and stir with your spatula, folding it in on itself until fully incorporated. You’ve ruined your glossy texture, but it’s okay. Once it comes up more to room temp, you’ve got a wonderful texture to spread onto the cookies.
Spread and sandwich the cookies together.
Makes 12-ish sandwiched cookies.
Tune in Monday for a great recipe to kick off your week of eating clean, simple and deliciously!
*recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour