At my office, everyone on our team takes responsibility for bringing treats for another team member’s birthday. Although store-bought treats are certainly welcomed and eagerly consumed, I always like to take the opportunity to bring something that I’ve baked from scratch whenever I can.
I haven’t been baking much lately – partly because I’ve found that eating a lot of gluten tends to trigger headaches, and also because I’ve had a fair amount of success losing weight and feeling better following the Paleo diet. However, a girl does like to splurge (smartly) once in awhile and what better excuse than a birthday? And what better way to celebrate a birthday than with a rich, dense, chocolate dessert?
I have tasted flourless chocolate cake and cookies before, and was always amazed by how delicious they were. I had to try this out myself, and looked at a few different recipes before settling upon this one published in the New York Times as my inspiration.
François Payard’s Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies
2 3/4 cups walnut halves
3 cups confectioners’ sugar (Subbed 1-3/4 C Sucanat, and 1/4 C agave nectar)
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature (start with 2, and add more to get desired consistency in batter)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350. Spread the walnut halves on a large-rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant. (1) Let cool slightly, then transfer the walnut halves to a work surface and coarsely chop them. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and lower temperature to 320. Line two large-rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. (2) In a large bowl, whisk (or combine in an electric mixer on low speed) the confectioners’ sugar with the cocoa powder and salt followed by the chopped walnuts. While whisking (or once you change the speed to medium), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not overbeat or it will stiffen).
(3) Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds, and bake for
14 to 16 minutes (note: mine took 20), until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking. Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto 2 wire racks. Let cookies cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
The original recipe called for 3 cups of confectioner’s sugar, but I just couldn’t bring myself to use that much refined sweetener in anything. So, with some trepidation, I substitued sucanat and agave nectar and cut the sweetener down to 2 cups. I also cut the egg whites to 2 and increased the baking time to 20 minutes, although your oven may vary so it’s a good idea to start with 14 and check every 2 minutes. You may want to open the oven about halfway through baking and press down with a spatula if they don’t spread out on their own (mine didn’t).
The finished product is like a very dense, very chewy brownie. As someone who generally avoids sugar, they are almost too sweet for me, so next time I think I will try increasing the cocoa powder and reducing the sucanat, and perhaps adding a shot or two of espresso to add a little more non-sweet flavor. But overall, I give these cookies an A- and with minor tweaking, these would be an excellent treat on par with any you would find in a nice bakery.