Sunday, August 31, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Squares (gluten-free)

The world of food chemistry is so fascinating, and more relate-able than one might think.

Like human chemistry, foods often go well with each other when they have something in common. There's the whole "opposites attract" thing that works once in a while, but it doesn't always last. Like those food trends that only stay around for a few months or so. Whoopie pies... really. 

I'll be the first to try the new black garlic and elderflower ice cream out of curiosity and to just plain switch it up a bit, but there will be a tub of classic Bourbon vanilla sitting in my freezer at all times. Forever and for always.

Vanilla and dairy just works. It's always good no matter my mood.

Flavour combinations work when the flavour compounds themselves share similar chemistry. They literally share the same chemical nomenclature like how people can share the same DNA.

Examples include chocolate and almond, ginger and garlic, tomato and basil, vanilla and chocolate, roasted cashew and caramel, lemon and honey, lemon and lime...

Introducing a contrasting flavour to a couple of complimentary flavours can add interest. That's how we make food fun.

These Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Squares feature plenty of complimentary food pairings like the famous chocolate and hazelnut, coconut and then some apricot for excitement. 

The slight tartness of apricot contrasts the bitterness of dark chocolate.

This recipe comes together in a flash. Just a few great ingredients and the option of being flourless and gluten-free. I used hazelnut meal to make these, but you could use 1/4 cup of flour instead.

It is meringue at its core, baked like a brownie and packed full of things you'd find in a great granola bar.  

We whip the egg whites to soft peaks and then slowly add the sugar until stiff glossy peaks form. You might think you're making a pie, but we're making delicate little snacking squares - trust me.

Goodies get folded in and then the baking follows the same rules as meringue - low and slow. We need to bake at 300 degrees F for 45 minutes to let it cook through evenly and stay nice and chewy. A high temperature would make it puff up and dry out.

You can have your way with different types of dried fruit, chocolate and nuts that you prefer, but I'd be careful about messing around with the coconut - it contributes to the texture. If you really don't like coconut you might be able to replace it with an equal amount of ground nuts.

Be sure to refrigerate for at least and hour before slicing. These squares are delicate and need the chill time to set and firm up. Right now I need chill time to eat these up. Happy Sunday!

Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Squares
Makes 16 squares

3 large egg whites
1/8 tsp salt
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
100 g (3.5 oz) dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup (35 g) ground hazelnuts (or ¼ cup all-purpose flour)
1 ¼ cups (80 g) unsweetened desiccated coconut
3/4 cup (150 g) dried apricots, chopped into small pieces

Preheat oven to 300°F and line an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, letting it hang 2 inches over the sides.

Beat egg whites with salt in a small bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time while beating until stiff peaks form.

Fold in chopped chocolate, hazelnut meal, coconut and dried apricots. Spread mixture evenly into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until evenly golden. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely and then refrigerate for 1 hour before slicing with a sharp knife.

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