For food-lovers in general (and chocoholics in particular), this dish is a dream come true: an elegant, healthy dessert that includes chocolate. Although deceivingly rich, these meringue tartlets are actually low-calorie and, consequently, low-guilt.

Do note, however, that this recipe is a bit more time-consuming than most. Be sure to begin at least a day before you plan on serving.

The sweet winter pears featured in this recipe are harvested in September. While all varieties are delicious (and nutritious), for cooking we recommend Bosc light brown and gold with an elegant tapering neck or Anjou pears plump, oval and light green when ripe.

These are firmer varieties and hold up best to heat. And, although ripeness matters less when selecting pears for cooking, firmer fruit may require a longer simmering time and an extra touch of sweetener.

While the presentation of this dish is particularly striking, the recipe is also packed with nutrients. One medium pear contains roughly 5 grams of fiber and just 100 calories.

In addition to their sophistication, these meringues are a surprisingly healthy end to a meal. They provide a low-calorie, low-fat protein source - egg whites. Do remember, when making meringues be sure to use the whites only. If any yolk accidentally slips into the bowl, you'll need to start over, as they won't stiffen properly otherwise.

Also, no short cuts on time. If the meringues are taken out of the oven prematurely, they will not get crisp.

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Lastly, while this recipe calls for minimal chocolate, the rich, dark chocolate used here imparts maximum flavor. In addition, research has shown that compounds in cocoa, called flavonoids, impart important antioxidant benefits.

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The higher the cocoa content, the more beneficial the effect. And, you guessed it dark chocolate has a much higher cocoa content than white or milk chocolate. When shopping, look for dark chocolate labeled "60 percent cocoa" or higher.

Meringue Tartlets with Pears and Shaved Chocolate

Makes 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup orange juice without pulp
  • 2 cloves
  • 4 ripe pears Bosc or Anjou varieties (peeled, halved and cored)
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 4 large, room temperature egg whites
  • Dash of cream of tartar
  • Dash of salt
  • 2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. shaved chocolate, from a good-quality dark chocolate bar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large baking pan, combine water, orange juice, 1 Tbsp. sugar and cloves. Add pears. Poach pears in the oven until soft. Remove pears from liquid and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until the eggs are frothy (about 1 minute). With the mixer at high speed, add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Beat for roughly 6 minutes or until stiff, glossy peaks form.
  4. Drop the meringue onto the prepared baking sheet in eight 3- to 4-inch-diameter rounds, smoothing the edges. Bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, but leave the meringues in the oven for about 12 hours. Do not open the oven door.
  5. When ready to serve, gently peel the meringues off the parchment paper.
  6. Place each pear half in a bowl and top with one meringue. To garnish, shave chocolate from the side of the chocolate bar using a vegetable peeler. Note, it may help if the chocolate bar is cold, so refrigerate for several minutes prior. Garnish each meringue with 1 teaspoon shaved chocolate.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
117 calories
2 g total fat
less than 1 g saturated fat
24 g carbohydrate
3 g protein
3 g dietary fiber
65 mg sodium