Walnut Meringue Cookies Sealed With A 'Kiss'

Jun 14, 2012
Originally published on August 1, 2013 2:04 pm

Jamie Lynn Stevenson can still remember the smell of walnut meringue cookies wafting from her great-grandmother's kitchen. The "little piles of heaven," also known in her family as bussels, or "kisses" in German, were dense but chewy, with hints of caramelized nut flavor inside.

"I was just salivating waiting for them," Stevenson recalls. "And the great thing about these cookies is that they didn't take very long to bake!"

But when she tried to follow the recipe in her own kitchen in Ashtabula, Ohio, after her great-grandmother died, she realized the cookies were not so easy to re-create. Stevenson knew the list of ingredients but had no clue about her great-grandmother's measurement or technique.

So she sent in the recipe as part of All Things Considered's "Lost Recipes" series, and with the help of Gesine Bullock-Prado, a pastry chef and cookbook writer in Norwich, Vt., decoded the secrets of meringue.

Walnut Meringue Cookies

Makes about 30 cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
  • 3 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons superfine or baker's sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso powder

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Combine the chopped walnuts with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in a food processor, and process until very fine.

Spread the mixture on a parchment-lined sheet pan, and bake for 30 minutes at 250 degrees F. Allow to cool completely.

Once mixture is cool, stir well with 1/4 cup of cornstarch.

Boil water in a pot large enough to sit a clean, metal mixing bowl on top.

Beat the egg whites and 3/4 cup of superfine or baker's sugar in the mixing bowl over boiling water until the sugar is almost, but not completely, melted.

In a clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine egg white mixture with 1/2 teaspoon of salt until mixture is foamy.

Slowly add the remaining sugar, then 1 teaspoon of instant coffee or espresso powder, and whisk until the meringue becomes very stiff.

Gently fold the walnut mixture into the meringue.

Dollop tablespoons of the meringue, or pipe silver-dollar-sized dollops with a pastry bag, onto a parchment-lined sheet pan.

Bake at 250 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender inside but not wet. You can open the oven door to check after 20 minutes but not before; otherwise, the meringue could collapse.

If you need help solving your own "Lost Recipe," submit it here to NPR's All Things Considered with "Lost Recipe" in the subject line.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

We asked for lost recipes; you answered. There's an Italian grandmother's spinach and rice ravioli dish with a cheese problem; a family conflict over corn bread - sweet or not sweet; plus many more mouth-watering mysteries. Our "Lost Recipes" project tries to re-create some old family dishes with the help of an expert - a kitchen detective, if you will. You get the solution; we get a story and maybe some inspiration.

Our first lost recipe begins with a kiss.


LOUIS ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Give me a kiss to build a dream on, and my imagination will thrive upon that kiss...

JAMIE LYNN STEVENSON: I'm Jamie Stevenson. I'm from Ashtabula, Ohio. And my lost recipe is nutz bussel. Bussel is what we traditionally called it in our family.

CORNISH: Bussel - kiss, in German. They're walnut meringue cookies - or little piles of heaven, as Jamie remembers them.

STEVENSON: The cookies are very dense. They're sort of chewy. You get a little bit of a caramelized nut flavor on the inside. And then the outside, it sort of falls apart a little bit. It was a recipe that my great-grandmother, who we called Oma, made. Oma - her name was Rosina Richards. She was born in 1913. She was born in southern Germany. They migrated into Yugoslavia later, after that. I believe she learned this recipe when she moved to Austria because of the war.


ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Give me a kiss before you leave me, and my imagination will feed my hungry heart.

STEVENSON: I was very young when she made these cookies, but I remember the smell very vividly. I was just salivating, waiting for them.

CORNISH: It's been about a decade and a half since Oma passed away. Her daughter-in-law - that would be Jamie's grandmother - has tried to re-create as much of Oma's cooking as she can, with some success. But those little nu, meringue cookies? No luck. Jamie knew the ingredients, but had no clue what measurements Oma used, or her technique. Enter our kitchen detective.


GESINE BULLOCK-PRADO: I am Gesine Bullock-Prado, and I am the Mistress of Meringue.

CORNISH: She's also a pastry chef who lives in Norwich, Vermont, and a cookbook author. We emailed her Jamie's story. She instantly recognized Oma's cookies - and the recipe's potential for trouble.

BULLOCK-PRADO: There were walnuts in there, which is traditional in nutz bussel. It has egg whites. It didn't really have a specific sugar measure, which could make things difficult. But it did call for confectioners' sugar, which immediately threw up many red flags for me because in the old country, they just powdered the sugar. But that tends to clump. So in the United States, we add things that are anti-clumping agents, like cornstarch.

CORNISH: And that addition can throw off a meringue's sugar-to-egg-white ratio - in this case resulting in flat, crunchy cookies that don't taste quite right. Gesine Bullock-Prado sent Jamie Lynn Stevenson her recipe for nutz bussel. It called for superfine sugar, and explains the pain that is meringue.

BULLOCK-PRADO: You cannot whisk them in a plastic bowl. You have to have everything clean because any bit of oil, or any kind of fat, is going to deflate the egg whites. So this is just for a traditional meringue. But then you decide to add nuts. And what do nuts have? They have oil. So you are really, really playing with fire - delicious fire, but it's fire.

CORNISH: The solution: Roast the nuts to dry them out. Then toss with just a little cornstarch to absorb the oil. Jamie gave it a shot. Her cookie kisses were tasty but flat. Gesine suspected the culprit was humidity. The women exchanged a volley of emails, tips on the French method of making meringue - a.k.a. the dry method - an intro to the Swiss method, which calls for heat.

Finally, attempt number five on a day with low humidity. Jamie had the brilliant idea to combine the Swiss and French methods. The result: walnut kisses, bussel just like Oma used to make.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: Because your kiss, your kiss is on my list...

STEVENSON: I sort of did a little dance in the kitchen and grabbed my husband, and he was just laughing at me. But it was very exciting to know that we went through this whole process and in the end, I'm able to take this recipe and have another part of my Oma that I didn't have before.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: Oh, oh, oh, because your kiss, your kiss is on my list.

BULLOCK-PRADO: Jamie proved herself to be a true stubborn German baker.

CORNISH: Again, our kitchen detective and pastry chef, Gesine Bullock-Prado.

BULLOCK-PRADO: She had that stubborn streak that my German mother had, too, and taught me; that if you have the information and the wherewithal to do it, you can master that recipe. You will be the queen of meringue, whether the meringue wants you to be or not.

CORNISH: You can find Jamie Lynn Stevenson's re-created nutz bussel recipe at our food page, called "The Salt," at NPR.org.

In the meantime, if you're trying to solve the mystery of your own lost recipe and not having much luck, write us at NPR.org. Just make sure "Lost Recipe" is in the subject line. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.