Spring is in the air, and the chickens know it. Small-scale chicken farmers across the country are finding themselves with an overabundance of eggs. Let’s use them! If you don’t raise your own chickens, now is a great time to buy eggs grown on a small farm. Today we’re going to use the egg whites to make meringue cookies.
Meringue cookies are exceptionally light, crispy clouds that dissolve in your mouth as you bite into them. Vanilla meringue cookies are fat free (about 19 cals per cookie!), but adding almond meal or miniscule gratings of dark chocolate scarcely change the fat ratio while adding to the nutrition, making them still a healthy choice for a sweet bite. They are also cholesterol free, wheat free and gluten free. We’re going to make all three kinds (vanilla, chocolate, and almond meringue cookies) today. These cookies are easy enough to make for kids to join in the fun, and they could become as much of your spring family tradition as Easter eggs or Passover* favorites.
Meringue cookies are made with egg whites (fat free: hooray!), cream of tartar, sugar, and flavoring, like vanilla. You’ll also need parchment paper. That’s it. And meringue is super easy to make as long as you remember one basic principle: egg whites will not whip into fluffy masses unless you keep them absolutely free of any fat, including residual fat on prep equipment or tiny bits of egg yolks from improperly separating the eggs. (Don’t worry about wasting the egg yolks; we’ll be using the yolks from this project to make custard, a.k.a. American pudding, later this week.)
- 4 egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (use a whole teaspoon if you are not making variations)
- 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (I have seen recipes for these cookies with half the egg whites and 150% the sugar I’m recommending here. I guess you could go to 3/4 cup sugar if you’re transitioning to a healthier diet but aren’t quite there yet.)
- 1/2 ounce dark chocolate, grated
- 2 tablespoons almond meal
- 2 tablespoon sliced almonds and bits
- drop of almond extract or orange extract
Begin by lining a large cookie sheet with ungreased parchment. Remember: fat is the downfall of meringue. We’re going to peel the parchment off the cookies at the end, because peeling the cookies off an unlined, ungreased cookie sheet is not an option. That’s the way the cookie crumbles! Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.
Now separate your egg whites from the yolks. I recommend the 3-bowl method. Each time you crack an egg, let the white fall into a small bowl (the little white one here). Then put the yolk in a small yolk gathering bowl (the measuring cup here). After you’ve checked the white for any signs of yolk, put it in your mixing bowl (the medium-sized peach-cased bowl here). Now crack the next egg, letting the white fall into the small whites bowl, and so on. That way, if you do mess up the separation, you’ll mess up one egg, not the whole batch.
Add the cream of tartar. Up the speed and whip until the whites form stiff peaks. Now add the vanilla and sugar, a little bit at a time. Whip to stiff peaks. Do you see the stiff peaks?Are your kids home for spring break? Are they going stir-crazy? Are they driving you crazy? Let them whip the egg whites using an old-fashioned, hand egg beater. They’ll have much less energy when they’re done.
Now, drop about one third of the meringue onto the parchment-covered cookie sheet as is. If you want, you can do what I did here and make a few meringue shells, pretty receptacles for things like fruit and dark chocolate pudding.
For the record, I used a portion–about half–of a square of 88% cacao Endangered Species chocolate. I ate the rest. It’s okay; it’ll lower my blood pressure.
Now add two tablespoons almond meal and two tablespoons sliced almonds to the remaining third. If you want to, add a drop (no more!) or almond extract or orange extract. Fold gently to combine. You know the drill: spoon out the rest in dollops on the parchment, wherever you can find room. I like to push a slice of almond into the top of these cookies to let people know how they are flavored.
Now put the cookies in the oven at 225 degrees F for at least two hours. Why such a low temperature? We’re not really baking the meringue; we’re drying it. Take out the cookies. Let them cool a bit and then peel them off the parchment and store them in an airtight container (that is, those that don’t get eaten right away).
You can also use meringue to pipe baskets to fill with other confections, and you can make freeform meringue bowls to hold ice cream, macerated fresh fruit–like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries–, or even pudding, which we’ll make in a later post, to use up the leftover egg yolks. Just be sure to wait to fill meringues until you are ready to serve them, because they’ll start to collapse almost immediately when they are touched with anything damp.
Now that you’ve had your meringue primer, we’ll make a chocolate or key lime or lemon meringue pie in the near future. I think was a key lime meringue pie I made when my father was visiting earlier this year. Or maybe it was a chocolate pie. Either way, yum!
*I’m not Jewish and no expert on kosher cooking, but it’s my understanding that meringue cookies are kosher (or, rather neutral: pareve or parve) for Passover, as long as your vanilla and chocolate pass.
Let me know if you have questions about separating eggs or making these cookies. And if you make them, let me know what you think! Are they really crispy clouds? What are your favorite spring holiday dishes and desserts?
Summer baking note: If you live in an area of the country that gets humid, I would not even attempt to make these meringue cookies, any peanut brittle, or any crisp toffee during the humid times of the year. You will get soft, sticky meringues and chewy, sticky brittle that’s not and toffee that’s just annoyingly gooey.
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