So with all of the different ice creams I’ve made recently, I have found myself with a ton of egg whites on hand (fourteen!). Meringues seemed like an appropriate way to quickly put some of those to use without throwing off the weekly food budget. Better still, its been so long since I had meringues, so why not?
Chocolate chip cookies, cakes, ice creams, etc are all awesome desserts, but when you have any one of those, there’s no questioning that you just ate something that was “bad” for you. Meringues are one of those treats you simply don’t feel guilty about eating though–they’re light as air, simple, and sweet (notice I didn’t say it is healthier–it just seems better!). With a nice crunchy outside and a delicious, marshmallowy inside, how can you go wrong? Seeing how the effort and the cost is so minimal, this is a great way to make a simple, finger-food dessert. Plus, playing with my KitchenAid still hasn’t gotten old yet, so I needed an excuse to use it again (like I’m going to beat all those egg whites to stiff peaks by hand)!
- 7 egg whites
- 1.75 cups sugar (1/4 cup per egg white)
- 1/2+ tsp cream of tartar
- Optional: 1/2 cup pecans
(this will make around 40-50 meringues)
So to start, separate some eggs (or if you’re in the situation I was in, you already did this for some other recipe), taking great care not to get anything other than egg whites into the egg whites bowl. Any grease, yolk, residual soap, etc will sabotage your efforts, so make sure the bowl is clean, dry, and that you do a good job of separating the whites from the yolks (whether you do the back and forth in the cracked shell or let it sift between your fingers–whatever!). Then, let the egg whites warm up to room temperature (let them sit out in the open for about 30 minutes to an hour if they’ve been in the fridge).
You don’t want to jump the gun and try to work with cold egg whites. Meringues are really simple when you consider the ingredients you put into them, and the bulk of what makes them what they are is that you beat a whole lot of fluffiness into the egg whites and then cook them slowly so that they lose all of their moisture and stay in that fluffed state in hard cookie form. Cold egg whites don’t fluff up nearly as easily due to some voo doo chemistry reasons (if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will! 😉 My engineering education hard at work…).
So anyways, in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a big mixing bowl if you want to use an electric hand mixer), add the room temperature egg whites. Start mixing on a low speed for about 3 minutes or so to get things frothed up a bit. Then, add in the cream of tartar. This alters the pH of the egg whites and will help them froth up a lot more as we go. Other recipes call for other ingredients that will serve the same purpose (e.g. vinegar, salt, lemon), but I wanted to add something with a more neutral flavor. So anyways, continue to mix this, increasing up to medium speed.
After about a minute or two, slowly begin to add in the sugar. I did this in 1/4 cup batches so that it would force me to be slow and gradual about incorporating the sugar. Gradually increase the mixer speed as well up to a medium-high sort of speed (I eventually went up to 8 on my KitchenAid).
While you’re waiting on the mixing to finish, put the nuts in a bag and break them down a bit with a meat mallet. You could fold this into the batter, but I instead used it more as a topping (whatever suits your fancy–or use no nuts at all! Chocolate/cocoa powder would also work nicely).
Once the egg whites form stiff peaks (e.g. you pull the whisk out of the egg whites and it forms a tuft that stays there in place, defying gravity), you’re done mixing. If its not ready yet, mix some more until it is.
With the egg white mixture stiff and the sugar totally dissolved into the egg whites, preheat the oven to 200?F and get out a baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper on top of it (the quantity in this recipe will require more than one sheet–two or three should do). If you have a pastry bag, you should transfer the egg white mixture into that and use it to squeeze out nice globs. If you’re like me and don’t have a pastry bag, you have two options: (1) be adventurous and use a plastic bag with a corner cut off or (2) be boring and just use two spoons: one to scoop some mixture out of the bowl and the other to slide it out of the first spoon and onto the baking sheet. I did the latter.
The meringues won’t expand much in the oven, so don’t worry about crowding them too much. If you’re including a topping, sprinkle it over the meringues at this point. Transfer this to the oven and let it sit for about an hour and a half. You want these to cook slowly and on a low temperature to allow the eggs to slowly release their moisture without bursting open or caramelizing the sugar, thereby burning the outside of the meringues. This way, your result is still a pristine white poof of sweetness.
Sadly, you can’t dive in just yet. Turn off the oven and prop it open a crack. You’re certainly able to sample a meringue at this point–they’re cooked and done.
However, they’re not entirely dried out just yet. The outside is, but inside will firm up a bit more given time, but if you just let them sit in the slightly open oven overnight, they should finish drying out a bit more, making them just right for a light snack tomorrow.