Helen was inspired to create these after a walk around Kew Gardens with her young sons. It was autumn and the ground was covered in conkers (horse chestnuts). Delighting in her boys delight at the little fallen treats, Helen then had to be the one to inform them that, no, eating conkers was really not such a good idea. Their look of collective bafflement was so great that Helen’s imagination set out to create something that both looks like it has fallen from a tree and, crucially, is eminently edible. These woodland meringues are the result.
We’ve included two versions here—dark chocolate with hazelnuts and white chocolate with freeze-dried strawberries. You can make one or the other or a combination of both—if you're doing a combination of both dark and white chocolate, halve the quantities listed below. We sell them in the shops in little see-through bags, for people to take home or to buy as a gift. They’re a lovely bite-sized way to end a meal or party.
When melted and used as a coating, dark chocolate can develop white streaks after a day or so. This won’t affect the taste but can be avoided by tempering the chocolate. Tempering the chocolate is optional here, however, as the chocolate is covered by the chopped hazelnuts so any white streaks won’t really be seen.
These will keep for up to 10 days, stored in an airtight container. —Helen
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. If making the dark chocolate coating, spread the hazelnuts out on a small rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel, draw in the sides and then rub together to remove some of the skins. Chop the nuts very finely—it’s better to do this by hand, rather than in a food processor, where the nuts will become dusty—then set aside in a bowl.
To make the meringue, lower the oven temperature to 275°F/140°C.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place. Beat on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until they appear foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat until they are stiff but not dry or crumbly, about 30 seconds. Place the sugar in a bowl, add the cornstarch and baking powder (adding both ensures a completely dry and crisp meringue), and gradually—a tablespoon at a time—add the sugar to the egg whites. Continue to beat for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is thick and glossy. Beat in the vanilla extract, then spoon into a piping bag with a 2/3-inch/1.5-cm tip in place.
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper (sticking each piece of parchment firmly to the baking sheet with a bit of the meringue mix). Pipe small droplets—or kisses—onto each lined baking sheet; the base of each droplet should be about 1 inch/3 cm wide. Raise the piping bag as you pipe, so that they are about 2 inches/5 cm high and you create a fine tip at the top. Once all the meringues have been piped, place both baking sheets in the oven at once. Immediately lower the oven temperature to 250°F/120°C—you want it to be slightly hotter when they go in, to give the meringues a crunch—and bake for 2 1⁄2 hours. The meringues are done when they look dry and sound hollow when tapped gently underneath. Turn off the oven but leave the meringues inside until they are cool, propping the door open with a wooden spoon.
To make the dark chocolate coating, place the dark and milk chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl is not touching the water. Stir occasionally until melted. One at a time, dip the base of the meringues into the melted chocolate, followed by the chopped hazelnuts, then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet to set.
To make the white chocolate coating, follow the instructions for the dark chocolate topping, dipping the base into the dried strawberries instead.