My family has many Christmas traditions and one of my favorites is the forgotten meringue. It’s called the forgotten meringue because you whip up the meringue, form cookies on a sheet, and put them in a preheated oven and turn the oven off, and then forget about them until the next morning. You then begin the day with a meringue or two because you just have to see how they came out. You nailed it if they’re light and airy and dissolve in your mouth. Even if you didn’t nail it and ended up with a chewier cookie, you’ll still really enjoy them — believe me, I’ve made plenty of less than perfect meringues and no one has ever complained.
Meringues may appear a little tricky, but if you follow the basic rules and tips, they’re actually pretty easy. Here are some tips for perfect meringues:
- Use clean hands and clean, dry utensils. Any kind of grease ruins meringue. That means that your cooking utensils need to be immaculately clean. Even if you’re sure they’re clean but they’ve been sitting in your kitchen for a while, run some hot, hot water over them and dry with a clean dish towel or paper towel. Then let them air dry for a little bit because you don’t want any water getting in the egg whites. Avoid plastic because it’s much harder to wash all the oils out. Also, make sure your hands are clean too because you don’t want any oils from your hands getting in the egg whites or those utensils that you just washed and rewashed in your paranoia.
- Use a touch of cream of tarter. It’s not necessary (my mom makes a perfect meringue without any at all), but it does help with getting good volume when you whip the egg whites and will help create a more stable meringue.
- **Separate eggs when they’re cold and let them come to room temp before whipping them. **Eggs are easiest to separate when they’re cold, but you’ll have better success whipping them if they’re at room temp.
- Don’t let any bit of yolk get in, even if it’s just an eensy bitsy bit. Break each egg one by one, putting the white in a small, clean bowl. Once you’ve established that it’s completely yolk-free, go ahead and add it to your bigger bowl and then begin again. That way if you have a yolk break at the last minute, you’re not infecting the entire bowl. While we’re on egg tips, be aware that you’re less likely to break the yolk when cracking the egg if you break it against a hard flat surface. If you break it against an edge, like the edge of a bowl, the shell breaks inward and you’re more likely to pierce the yolk. Take it from someone who used to do work in a bakery and would break hundreds of eggs in just a few hours (leading to recurring dreams about never-ending piles of eggs to be cracked…).
- Don’t make meringues on a humid day. Just save yourself the trouble. Meringues hate humidity. The whole idea of meringues is that you’re whipping air into egg whites. If there’s a lot of moisture in the air it just messes it up.
- Don’t over whip your eggs. Yes, it’s possible to over beat. You’ll know that’s happened when you notice your peaks go from stiff to soft. If this happens, try adding another egg white and see if you can recover it.
- Don’t skimp on the sugar (and don’t go over either). The sugar is what stabilizes the egg whites, giving them the structure to create the hard peaks that you need to make meringue cookies. Skimping on the sugar means you’re skimping on structure so this no time to be trying to make them healthier (they’re actually pretty healthy already as cookies go).
- Don’t take a break halfway through and don’t wait too long before putting them in the oven. Doing so will allow precious air to seep out of all of your hard work. So this is not the time to start taking lots of pictures for your food blog….
- Follow the directions! If you’re not sure what a soft peak is and what a hard peak is, go to http://www.baking911.com/howto/egg_whites_beat.htm. (Not the prettiest site, but has good info with pictures!)
- Use parchment paper. Sure you can try butter and cooking spray and all that other stuff, but they’ll still often stick and then break as you try to pry them loose from the cookie sheet. Use parchment paper and you won’t even need a spatula to get them off the pan.
Follow these simple tips and you’ll see that meringues really aren’t that hard! Have any other tips for meringues? Share them in the comments!
Adapted from Christmas Cookies and Candies and Emeril Lagasse
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the whisk attachment on medium until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until fluffy but not at all dry. (Be careful not to over beat.)
Increase to high and add the sugar gradually, about 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time. When half of the sugar has been added, add the vanilla extract. Continue beating and adding remaining sugar in batches, until all of the sugar is dissolved and the meringue is very shiny and tight. Gently fold in the chocolate chips.
Place a teaspoonful of meringue onto the lined baking sheets, leaving 1-inch of space between cookies. Place the baking sheets in the preheated oven and turn the oven off. Leave the cookies (undisturbed) in the oven for at least 2 hours and up to overnight, or until cookies are crisp and dry.