Unusual and gorgeous, these one-bite petits fours are spicy, sweet and tart, with a meringue cookie topped with spiced whipped cream and a sprinkle of pomegranate arils. The play of textures, with the crisp, light meringue, rich whipped cream, and sparkling pomegranate seeds is unexpected and addictive.
The cream softens the meringues, so assemble these right before serving and offer in small quantities so they don't sit out too long. They get mushy in about an hour. Next time I will probably offer them as a plated dessert, with two or three side by side with chocolate gelato or mousse.
Make sure the meringues are completely dry, with no chewiness at all. If that doesn't happen in this baking time, just keep in the oven on low heat until they dry out completely. Then turn off the oven and leave them there all night. Getting them really dry is probably less of a problem in New York or California than in Florida, where humidity levels are high even in the winter. You want them to be completely crisp and flaky.
Spiced Pomegranate Meringues Adapted slightly from Epicurious
makes about 3 dozen
2 large egg whites 1/8 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar 1/2 cup granulated sugar (superfine if possible)
2 teaspoons regular granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds or powder 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder 1 cup chilled heavy cream 1 pomegranate
Preheat oven to 175°F. Prepare a couple large baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat egg whites using an electric mixer at high speed until they get foamy. Add the salt and cream of tartar. Beat until the whites hold stiff peaks. Add sugar a tiny bit at a time, beating at high speed, and continue to beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Either pipe the meringue, using a pastry bag, or spoon in dollops 1 1/4-inch-wide disks (about 1/3 inch high) about 1/2 inch apart. You want the disks a little flat, with a hollow in the center if possible. I flattened them with the back of a wet spoon.
Bake meringues in middle of oven until dry but still white, about 1 1/2 hours, or until completely crisp, then cool in turned-off oven (with door closed) overnight. Store until using in a completely airtight container.
Finely grind regular sugar with anise and Chinese five-spice in coffee/spice grinder. Beat cream in a bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks, then add anise sugar, beating until it just holds stiff peaks.
Pipe or dollop 1 teaspoon cream onto each meringue and top with 3 pomegranate seeds.
(To open and clean the pomegranate without squirting red juice all over the kitchen, cut it into quarters, then rub out the arils while holding each quarter in a deep bowl of water in the sink. The membranes will float to the top where you can skim them off. Then drain the water in the bowl through a sieve and you'll have the arils all clean and ready to be used.)