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Nancy in Pátzcuaro

What went wrong with these cookies?

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Last night I made "Fudgy Chocolate-Walnut Cookies (flourless)" for a Seder dinner tonight. What emerged from the oven weren't cookies at all, but rather a crisp puddle with vaguely cookie-shaped broken pieces floating on it. Tastes wonderful, but looks pretty bad. No photos--too ugly.

 

The recipe includes 9 oz. toasted walnuts chopped very fine in the food processor, 3 cups confectioner's sugar, 1/2 cup + 3 Tbs. Dutch process cocoa powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 Tbs. vanilla, and 4  egg whites (unwhipped) . The instructions say to preheat the oven to 350 and bake for 20 minutes.

 

My first thought is that the oven temperature is too high for anything with egg whites in it. Any other ideas? I will try this again at a lower temperature, but there's no time to do it today (plus I'm out of both walnuts and confectioner's sugar). I'll bring them tonight, but it's a little embarrassing to have to break this big dark brown cookie/cracker into uneven pieces to serve it.

 

Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks--

 

Nancy in Pátzcuaro

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Great topic. I don't have any answers for you, but I just finished my own "fashleh" (mess-up), although in my case I know what went wrong. I always make Carole Walter's Passover Lemon Chiffon Cake. It's a great cake. Anyway, this year it seems that I bought potato flour instead of potato starch. Who woulda thunk these two things are so different??! The batter was so thick! Potato flour absorbs liquid like a sponge, who knew? I added water and a bit more oil, trying to salvage it. And of course I baked it anyway. It's unlikely that I'll serve it. But at least now I own a piece of the rock! 

 

You can tell people it's chocolate brittle. If it tastes good, that's the main thing. What was the consistency of the batter before you baked? Were you able to scoop batter onto the baking sheet? Were all the ingredients mixed together in the FP after the nuts were chopped? Do you think it might turn out more cookie-like if you did whip the egg whites (or maybe two of them) with some of the sugar and then incorporate it into the rest of the batter? I'm just trying to trouble shoot. It sounds familiar, I seem to remember making something (not for Passover) with egg whites that were not whipped, and I was suspicious of the recipe but I made it anyway, and I remember having to throw it out. But I can't remember what it was.

 

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Chocolate Brittle it is! Thanks for giving this a name--

 

The batter was definitely scoopable, though I remember adding the egg whites and thinking, "There's not going to be enough liquid" before it came together. You've got 3 c. of sugar, over 1/2 c. cocoa, and almost 3 c. of nuts, so there's a lot of volume of dry ingredients. The recipe cautioned against mixing too long because the batter could seize up. Perhaps I didn't mix long enough?

 

I only chopped the nuts in the FP before transferring them to the bowl with the sugar and cocoa and then used a hand mixer to make the batter. I still suspect oven temperature, though. The photo accompanying the recipe (from Food and Wine) shows tidy little chocolate cookies, and when I put the scoops of batter on the parchment paper they made reasonable-looking mounds--like normal cookies, in fact.

 

Just now I broke up the crackers and stacked them in a bowl for transportation to the Seder. They do look better as pieces rather than one huge brown slab.

 

Nancy in Pátzcuaro

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How old are the eggs? Old whites deflate really easily and are pretty much useless.

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The eggs were fresh, bought yesterday from a source that turns over quickly. I don't think they're organic, but they are local. But because the whites weren't whipped but put in the dry mixture as they came out of the shell, I'm not sure if they would deflate the way whipped egg whites would. But again, because I have no idea what happened, all suggestions are possibilities.

 

Tonight I talked with someone who's made this recipe before and said hers were actually cookies and not a puddle of chocolate and nuts. But they were baked at sea level and I live at 7,000 feet--could that have contributed to the difference?

 

Nancy in Pátzcuaro

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As a short answer, yes.

 

Check out this link for how to adjust recipes for your altitude.

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In that case--the problem being related to altitude--I really don't know how to rescue this recipe. I've lived and baked at 7,000 feet for over 35 years and I know how to adjust a recipe for altitude, but this recipe, which has no flour or leavening, leaves me mystified. I know eggs provide some leavening, along with baking powder/soda/yeast in more traditional recipes, but how to adjust this one for altitude? I'm just about prepared to strike it off the list.

 

Though it was a hit last night at the Seder--people couldn't stop eating it, despite being stuffed with other good food.

 

As Satchel Paige once said, "Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you."

 

Nancy in Pátzcuaro

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Sounds like excess sugar melted and caramelised too quickly for the structure to become established.

 

I'd try less sugar and more egg white, perhaps whipping a part of the egg white and folding it in to give additional structure to the cookies.

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15 hours ago, Nancy in Pátzcuaro said:

In that case--the problem being related to altitude--I really don't know how to rescue this recipe. I've lived and baked at 7,000 feet for over 35 years and I know how to adjust a recipe for altitude, but this recipe, which has no flour or leavening, leaves me mystified. I know eggs provide some leavening, along with baking powder/soda/yeast in more traditional recipes, but how to adjust this one for altitude? I'm just about prepared to strike it off the list.

 

Though it was a hit last night at the Seder--people couldn't stop eating it, despite being stuffed with other good food.

 

As Satchel Paige once said, "Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you."

 

Nancy in Pátzcuaro

 

I lived for a long time at 7,300 in New Mexico. What happens at high altitude is less about leavening and more about structure. Less air sitting on top of your pan means that baked goods over inflate, like blowing up a balloon too much, then collapse when the structure breaks. With cakes and such, the adjustment is simply less leavening, and sometimes more gluten. In this recipe, the only thing providing structure is the egg white. I suggest adding a small amount, like .5 oz at first, of powdered egg white.

 

I know the whites aren't whipped, but, they still have many properties associated with whipping. One of those is negative reactions to fats. You might try changing cocoa brands. Some cocoa is fat free, some is very high in fat. The lower fat-content type should work better.

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I used Penzey's Dutched Cocoa, but I have no idea what the fat content was (it was the last of the bag and I threw it away). I think I'll look on their website for that information. I also like the idea of adding some powdered egg white to beef up (so to speak) the structure.

 

In the end I doubt I'll make this recipe again. There are plenty of other flourless recipes out there for Passover. But I have appreciated all the comments from all of you with great suggestions. EGulleteers are the best.

 

Nancy in Pátzcuaro

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@Panaderia Canadiense might be the reigning queen of high altitude baking here on eG. She recently went through an earthquake and is trying to help in assistance and recovery efforts, but she would be the first person I would ask about baking anything sky high above sea level. She runs a successful profesional bakery in Ambato, Ecuador.

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Nancy, I'm at 10,000 feet, so maybe take my advice with a grain of salt…. But the way you say they spread out makes me think there might have been too much liquid.  Egg whites, if they're unbeaten, actually expand and become more absorbent when they're heated - so if the batter was scoopable and behaved like a "normal" cookie dough ought to, it was actually too slack right then (think about Babka fillings, which are prepared the same way - they're very stiff going in to the bread, and relax into a bubbly liquid while they're in the oven).  If egg whites and vanilla are your only liquids, then the batter should be so stiff that you can roll it into balls with your hands, without leaving too much behind on your palms.

 

The original recipe says "gooey" which also makes me think you're not going for a fully cooked cookie - that maybe you want to set only the outer layer of the dough, so that they'll hold the walnut-cocoa-sugar goo inside them, kind of like flourless brownies.  If that's the case, then the high oven temperature makes sense (at least for sea level) - but the 20 minute baking time definitely doesn't.

 

When you try again, cut your egg whites back by one and try a slightly cooler oven, say 325 or even 300.  Whenever my drop cookies turn into lace unintentionally, it's been from too much liquid in the batter, and too much heat in the oven for too much time.

 

Alternately, if you've got potato starch or tapioca flour in your chametz, a little goes a long way to firming up this kind of thing.  Like, 1 tsp little.

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Thanks so much for responding, Panaderia Canadiense. I know you're occupied in helping with the earthquake recovery and I appreciate that you took time to write. My husband and I have spent many happy days in Ecuador, even considered moving there (but ended up in México), and when we heard about the earthquake and aftershocks, and the horrible number of fatalities, we were heartsick.

 

When I started to incorporate the egg whites into what seemed like way too much powdered sugar/cocoa/chopped nuts, I was surprised that it turned into something scoopable. I was sure it would be a dry, crumbly mess. So if I reduce the egg whites by one and bake for less time at a slightly lower temperature it might make actual cookies instead of "Chocolate Bark." You give me hope that the next time I (maybe) make this it will be successful. I have no confidence that I could successfully fold in whipped egg whites without completely deflating them, so using one less unwhipped egg white would make it simpler for me. I think I'll give it a try. I'll report back if I'm lucky!

 

I'll look for tapioca flour or potato starch here, but I suspect I'll have to bring it from the US. Thanks for that tip also.

 

Nancy in Pátzcuaro

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50 minutes ago, Nancy in Pátzcuaro said:

Thanks so much for responding, Panaderia Canadiense. I know you're occupied in helping with the earthquake recovery and I appreciate that you took time to write. My husband and I have spent many happy days in Ecuador, even considered moving there (but ended up in México), and when we heard about the earthquake and aftershocks, and the horrible number of fatalities, we were heartsick.

 

When I started to incorporate the egg whites into what seemed like way too much powdered sugar/cocoa/chopped nuts, I was surprised that it turned into something scoopable. I was sure it would be a dry, crumbly mess. So if I reduce the egg whites by one and bake for less time at a slightly lower temperature it might make actual cookies instead of "Chocolate Bark." You give me hope that the next time I (maybe) make this it will be successful. I have no confidence that I could successfully fold in whipped egg whites without completely deflating them, so using one less unwhipped egg white would make it simpler for me. I think I'll give it a try. I'll report back if I'm lucky!

 

I'll look for tapioca flour or potato starch here, but I suspect I'll have to bring it from the US. Thanks for that tip also.

 

Nancy in Pátzcuaro

 

There is absolutely tapioca flour in most parts of México - look for Harina de Yuca or Fecula de Yuca or Maicena de Yuca.  Or Manioca.  It's often sold in bags premixed with vanilla or chocolate, for making coladas and horchatas; the most popular brand in Ecuador is called Tapioquita.

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