Photo: Monika Bartyzel.
Since they are simply an airy, whipped mix of egg whites and sugar -- ingredients that just need a little time in a stand mixer before being piped and slowly baked -- they are perfect for impressive, last-minute projects. Meringues are malleable, easy to work with, and can suit any holiday need, from classy adult appetizers to cute kid treats. Perfect for any tastebud or gathering, they are the holiday treat that can't be beat.
Meringues don't require many ingredients or much effort. However, the easiest way to make these treats perfectly on the first go is to spend 5 minutes doing a little reading to find out why the recipe works and how everything comes together. With that simple amount of prep, you'll be able to speed through the process easily and successfully.
I used the Kitchn's meringue recipe with a few modifications for these cookies, with added research from What's Cooking America's comprehensive post on making the perfect meringue. Read on for my techniques and tips, but be sure to visit both pages for all the essentials.
Photo: Monika Bartyzel.
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 fine white sugar, or granulated sugar ground for 1-2 minutes in a food processor
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp butterscotch extract plus an added dash of vanilla extract*
*Butterscotch is a great flavor for meringues, but many other flavors work too. The Kitchn's rum/vanilla mixture is also great, as is plain vanilla.
These are the main ingredients. Don't skimp, and you won't have a problem. Skimp, and you'll probably still get a meringue, but it will not look or taste nearly as good.
Eggs -- These are the most important part of the recipe. Without good eggs, you cannot get good meringue. Don't try to cheat and use carton egg whites. While they will work (kind of), they will take much longer to whip up, they won't hold their shape well and won't have the same mouth-melting crispness.
To separate the egg whites, take them out of the fridge and immediately separate them. While cold, the whites separate much more easily. However, once they are separated, let them cool to room temperature, preferably for a half hour. When the egg whites have a chance to warm just a little, they will foam more, while a cold egg will whip up so quickly that it won't have a chance to rise to the same amount of foaminess.
1. Heat your oven to 200 degrees F. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. While the oven is warming, beat the eggs at a medium speed until they are foamy -- not just as they start to foam, but to the point where they look like a bubbly, foamy mess.
3. Add the cream of tartar, and continue beating the mix to soft peaks that still have bubbles and bend easily.
4. Now turn your mixer up to high, slowly adding the sugar in. I find the easiest way to do this (which also saves on dishes) is to just take the dry 1/4 teaspoon you were using and continually add heaping spoonfuls until all the sugar is incorporated. As this happens, the whites will get a glossy sheen, and when they do, add in your choice of flavoring.
5. The mix is complete when the peaks stand straight up and do not fall at all. You need them this stiff so that they hold the shape you pipe them in.
Now it's time to pipe. Take a large star tip (should be about the size of a fingertip, unless you want smaller cookies) and add the meringue to a piping bag. Using a spatula, fill the bag until about 2 inches from the top, and squeeze out the meringue onto the cookie sheet. (The Kitchn suggests taping down the parchment, because it will rise as you're piping. You can also just use one hand to hold it down until there's enough cookies that it weighs the paper down on its own.)
Play around with your techniques to get a look that appeals to you. As the attached gallery shows, starting with the tip close to the sheet, squeezing, and pulling up will create a straight-lined shape, while starting higher, squeezing, and quickly pushing down will give the star lines a bit of a curve. This part is up to your personal aesthetic. They can also be piped close together -- just make sure the meringues aren't touching.
There are many shapes you can try beyond the star blobs. There are wreaths, swirls with good tidings, more round ghost meringues turned into snowmen, or stunning squiggles.
Once piped, just bake in the 200 degree F oven about 2 hours, until dry and no longer tacky. If they're almost there, you can let them dry further by just leaving them in the oven with the heat off until the desired crispness is achieved.
Handy Cooking Tips
Just three egg whites will give you a TON of meringue -- maybe too much to fit in your oven all at once. There are a few options.
Toaster ovens cook meringues wonderfully. The ones I cook in the smaller oven become perfectly dry in a shorter amount of time, and allow you to bake a second batch while the oven is full. Also, since you're not cheating with pre-packaged whites, you should be able to pipe out other cookies to sit in a cool and dry location until more oven space is freed. But if possible, try to include them all in one go to save heaps of time. This will be easier with a ridge-free pan that allows more cookies per pan.
Plain meringues are fancy on their own, but they can also be more festive with added decorations.
If you don't mind a change in texture, pipe the whites onto sprinkles to add Christmas colors and an added crunch.
But better yet, get shimmering, edible baker's dust. As you can see, they take meringues to an all-new level. You can't shake it on with a sieve like baking powder, or sprinkle with your fingers, but you can brush it on with your finger, or more easily with a brush. Suddenly, the white meringue will become a stunning bronze, silver, gold. Any shimmer will work, but it's the rich colors like bronze that pop the most.
Additionally, you can also use edible spray shimmer, but this is much harder to apply -- the force of the spray will make it hard to hold the meringue still and cover it uniformly, and while it sounds easier, it's actually a lot more work for a lesser result.
Want to take it all a step further? Turn them into a Meringue Tree!
And there you have it. Some egg whites, sugar, and shimmer are all you need to have a sweet and happy holiday.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Find more Christmas cookies and Christmas recipe ideas on KitchenDaily.