The Phantom of the Opera was the must-see show in the late 1980s. It told the story of a phantom who haunted the opera house in Paris, and Christine Daae, the understudy with whom he fell in love. Phantom has since gone out of style but, at the time, no one could resist its flamboyant charms. In terms of sheer drama and visual spectacle, it’s hard to think of anything that equaled it, either before or since.
A quick breakdown of that drama: The crew at the opera house frighten the others with tales of the mysterious Phantom who terrifies singers and wreaks havoc backstage. The Phantom kidnaps Christine, and takes her on a tour of the subterranean lake below the opera house. The main soloist, Carlotta, receives a note that reads:
“Your days at the Opera Populaire are numbered
Christine Daae will be singing on your behalf tonight
Be prepared for a great misfortune
Should you attempt to take her place.”
If that isn’t enough, Carlotta loses her voice, the stagehand who backs her is killed and his body shoved from the rafters, and a chandelier crashes to the ground. All of this happens in the first act.
So, pretty much a normal day at the office.
The only kind of recipe that could be inspired by The Phantom of the Opera is one so ridiculously over the top, it’s beyond irony. So frivolous and sugary and extravagant, all you can do is stand back and appreciate it for what it is.
I found that recipe in the Meringue Girls cookbook. These squares are the culinary equivalent to Christine Daae’s highest trill, or to a weeping phantom being redeemed by a woman’s kindness.
It won’t be obvious, but I’ve actually given you the “sensible” version of the recipe. I cut back on the sugar by nearly one half, and cut the squares much smaller than the recipe suggested. (I got thirty squares, where the recipe suggested twelve. Not even in my most desperate sugar cravings could I eat one-twelfth of this pan of squares in one helping.)
The only “great misfortune” that will occur is if you never try these dramatic, luscious, unforgettable meringue squares.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Meringue Squares
(adapted from Meringue Girls: Incredible Sweets Everybody Can Make)
For the cookie base:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/3 cups chocolate chips
For the meringue:
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
4 egg whites
1. To make the cookie base:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9” x 13” baking pan with parchment paper, with some overhang on the long sides.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, beat the melted butter, brown sugar and sugar with a mixer until well blended, about 1 – 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, egg and egg yolk until light and creamy, another 2 minutes. Mix in the dry ingredients with a spoon until just blended and a crumbly dough forms.
Gently press the dough into the bottom of the prepared baking sheet, making sure the surface is even. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the cookie dough and press them down lightly. Bake for 15 minutes, until the dough is just cooked but still soft. Using a knife, spread the chocolate evenly over the top. Let cool for at least 15 minutes.
2. To make the meringue:
Pour egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on high speed just until the whites form stiff peaks. Add one tablespoonful of sugar after another to the bowl while still beating. Continue to whisk on high for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and the sugar fully incorporated.
3. To assemble:
Using a rubber spatula, dollop the meringue on the cookie base and spread it to the edges. Cut a sheet of parchment paper about the same size as the pan and lightly press it onto the meringue. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, then remove the parchment and bake for 5 minutes more, until the meringue peaks are lightly golden.
Let cool completely, then cut into 30 squares.