Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Holiday Cookies: Meringues
I have to admit to being picky about meringue cookies. I don't like being surprised with unseen chunks baked inside, or the overbaked cookies that crumble into your lap. What I love about meringues is the solid dose of flavor they carry and the infinite shaping possibilities. I usually make tiny, red-striped dots of mint-flavored meringue, so this year I experimented with chocolate and a longer squiggle-shaped cookie. Mostly I wanted a different shape on my cookie trays, but I was also out of red food coloring and peppermint. So this year's version is chocolate with raspberry extract, and it baked up fabulously.
Here's a very basic recipe for you to try. If you're not into chocolate, leave it out. Need a different flavor? Substitute it. Want candy cane-shaped cookies? Try it. Could they be any more flexible? Not possible. Still delicious? Yep.
6 egg whites, cold
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp peppermint extract, or your favorite
1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted (optional)
In a heat-proof mixing bowl, place sugar and egg whites. Set the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and whisk quickly until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. Use the mixer to whip whites until they're glossy and they can hold stiff peaks (should hold their shape without stretching or bending). Then mix in the extract and cocoa powder — I used raspberry this year for a change, but I typically use peppermint for that after-dinner mint nostalgia.
Heat the oven to 175º and line four baking sheets with parchment. You'll need to pipe and bake these in two batches, so use two baking sheets that will fit in your refrigerator, unless you have two ovens. Use a frosting bag paired with a serrated tip, and fill the bag with meringue. Pipe onto the parchment, leaving about 1/2-inch of space on all sides. Fill all four trays with shapes, then refrigerate two of the trays.
Bake two sheets at a time for about 90 minutes, or until the cookies start to crack (see photo below). Alternate the two chilled sheets into the oven next.
Note: I piped long shapes just to have a different shaped cookie on my trays, but you can also make circles about the size of quarters or experiment to get whatever shape you like. Beware that the larger the shapes, the longer it will take to bake them so adjust cook time accordingly. You can refrigerate the unpiped meringue, rather than pipe it onto trays first, but it will hurt your hands to pipe it after it's been chilled. Yes, I know that for a fact.