A little bird told me

According to the Chinese, the Year of the Rat will soon give way to the Year of the Ox.

We, on the other hand, have declared 2009 to be the Year of the Home. As in cracking open that nest egg we've been squirreling away for a rainy day and seeing what it can buy. Fortunately every day's a rainy day here in Vancouver, so any day will do.

While we work on that, you can take a crack at these edible meringue nests. You can fill them with virtually anything your little heart desires, but the chocolate version proposed here has dual appeal. Not only is rich fudge the perfect foil for light-as-a-feather meringue, it puts those pesky yolks to good use.

Meringue Fudge Drops

2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar

Fudge Filling:
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons butter
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons icing sugar

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat the egg whites, almond extract, cream of tartar and salt on medium speed until soft peaks form. (Set aside the egg yolks to make the fudge filling later on.) Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high until sugar is dissolved and stiff peaks form.

Drop the meringue mixture by teaspoonful onto the prepared sheets. (Alternatively, use a piping bag with a large plain tip for smoother, marginally more uniform meringues). Use a small spoon to make a small indentation in the centre of each meringue.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

For the fudge filling, combine the chocolate chips and butter in a small saucepan. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until the mixture is smooth. Meanwhile whisk together the egg yolks and icing sugar in a small bowl.

Reduce the saucepan heat to low and gradually whisk in the egg yolk mixture. Cook and stir for 1 minute or until the mixture reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, whisking several times.

Once cool, spoon a bit of fudge into the centre of each meringue. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. My meringues became a bit chewy over time, but they're still delicious!

Yields 4-1/2 dozen.

Notes: The original recipe called for a sprinkling of finely chopped nuts over the fudge, but it completely slipped my mind. Much like those pepitas on last week's Polka Dot Pumpkin Muffins.