Meringues have become ubiquituously associated with the "Fat Free!" "Almost ZERO calories!" crowd of diet desserts at the grocery store, crowded into plastic tubs that cheerily advertise their low-calorie benefits. They are certainly not what we would reach for when looking for an indulgent dessert.
But when baking for a large crowd of people, or looking for something cute and sweet to serve at a party, homemade meringues can be delightful, and a little extra something is all it takes to lift them into an addictive and delicious confection that crunches then melts in the mouth.
Read on for a basic recipe and tips to conquer the egg white...
Meringue is made, fundamentally, of three things: egg whites, sugar and air. Sometimes cream of tartar is added to stabilize the egg whites, along with a little salt for some piquancy, and one or two flavorings, carefully. And that's all. A meringue is a delicate dance of mixing these ingredients so they create an elastic substance that can hold the most possible air. The short ingredient list is deceptively simple, but getting everything to work properly together can be frustrating at times.
Once you learn a few simple steps, however, they are easy.
Then the egg whites are whipped until they are glossy like marshmallow frosting, and piped onto a parchment covered sheet and baked at a low temperature until thoroughly dried out. If your kitchen is humid it's best to just turn off the oven and leave them there all night to make sure they really dry out.
Finally, a note on flavorings. Meringues can't support a lot of complicated flavorings; too much flavoring or mix-ins and they'll collapse, unable to support the extra moisture or weight. It's a balance, however, because plain meringues are just so sweet that they really need something to balance it. A great option is to use alcohol; a little brandy, Kirsch, or rum will give a wonderful flavor that pervades the cookies without ruining the texture.
Meringue Cookie Bites
about 60 2-inch meringues
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup fine white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Flavorings - see below
2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon rum or rum flavoring
2 tablespoons Kirschwasser
Pipe onto parchment-covered sheets. The parchment is essential; these will stick like crazy. Bake for about two hours then turn off the oven and let them cool. They should be completely dry with no chewiness inside.