One of the amazing things about egg whites is that you can freeze them for a year and they’ll be OK. I had a few egg whites in my freezer left over from the times I needed only the yolks when testing recipes. Over the past year, they became buried behind more captivating ingredients. It was time for me to do something about the situation.
Flourless, a gluten-free baking book by Nicole Spiridakis, has a lot of ideas that I’ve been wanting to try out, and Nicole is all about baking with egg whites. With the egg whites defrosted (by leaving them at room temperature for an hour) I was ready to go. I opted to try Nicole's recipe for candied hazelnuts.
Here’s the deal: you bake the egg white-and-cocoa coated hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet with melted butter. As the nuts bake, the butter browns. You give the pan an occasional stir so the butter gets mixed into the egg whites. And that’s it. I sprinkled the nuts with some flakey sea salt, but they are fine on their own. Plus, the leftover egg white situation had been resolved. Why it took me a year to make these, well, that's the part I need to improve.
In her book, Nicole says that you can use any nut for this recipe, but hazelnuts are a natural fit for the brown butter. I took the liberty of doubling the cocoa, but you don’t have to.
Adapted from Flourless, by Nicole Spiridakis (Chronicle, 2014)
Makes about 5 cups
3 cups hazelnuts
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
2 egg whites (large, extra-large, or jumbo is fine; precision not essential)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Sea salt flakes for garnish (optional)
Heat the oven to 325°F. Spread the hazelnuts on a rimmed sheet pan and toast until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. (It’s OK if they’re not 100% toasted; they’ll be baked more later.)
If the hazelnuts have skins, wrap them up in a kitchen towel while still warm and rub them to loosen the skins. It’s not essential to remove all the skins.
Scatter the butter on the same baking sheet used to toast the nuts. Put the baking sheet in the oven and melt the butter, a few minutes. remove the pan once the butter is melted.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl with a whisk (and a strong arm), whip the egg whites until they form fine bubbles. Alternatively, do all this with the whisk attachment in a stand mixer on medium speed. Or use a hand-held mixer. Add the sugar in 3 to 4 installments, continuing to whip until the egg whites are glossy.
Sift the cocoa over the egg whites and stir to incorporate. Add the nuts and fold to coat evenly in the egg whites.
Spread the coated nuts on the baking sheet with the melted butter. Bake for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, then give the nuts a good stir. Bake for 10 more minutes. Give it another stir to encourage the meringue soaks up all the butter, then bake a final time for 10 to 15 minutes or until the meringue seems to be set around the nuts. It will continue to crisp up as it cools.
Let the nuts cool completely. For sweeter or saltier hazelnuts, sprinkle with more sugar or sea salt flakes while still warm. The nuts keep for at least a week in a sealed container at room temperature.