October 21, 2010

PERFECT Mini Meringues

I've been thinking about making meringues ever since my friend, Martie, introduced me to some that are available at the grocery store.  They are very, very good, but cost close to five dollars. 

Meringues are gluten free. They are fat free.  They have much fewer calories than standard cookies.  I read that 6 of them equals 1 weight watchers point.  I like that one or two satisfies my sweet tooth.  Plus, it turns out they are easy and inexpensive to make and call for very few ingredients.

The recipe I used came from A Taste of Georgia cookbook and is attributed to Joe Ann Hanson.  My edition is old - a fifth printing from 1981. I don't know what printing they are on now, but the book is just as popular now as it was when I bought it.  It's still my favorite cookbook after all these years.  I think there's a law in Georgia that a copy of this book must be in every kitchen.  It's a law I highly approve of.

Here's the recipe from the book:

    * 2 egg whites
    * 1/2 cup sugar
    * 1 tsp almond extract
    * 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (or 1/2 cup coconut)

Beat egg whites until stiff.  Gradually add sugar.  When mixture stands in peaks, add extract.  Carefully fold in nuts or coconut.  Drop by tiny spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Bake at 250 degrees for 50 minutes.

I used pecans for mine.  The verdict:  They are delicious!  The DH has declared them even better than the store bought ones. He generally speaks his mind so you can take that opinion to the bank.  I agree, but let me say the store bought ones were quite good, too.

I served them on a simple white platter I had for sale in my booth and then brought back home to keep.
I was curious about the almond extract.  The store bought ones I had were vanilla and I loved those.  I thought about substituting, but since was my first time making meringues, I decided to follow the recipe.  I'll probably try vanilla next time, but I'll definitely make almond again, too.

Lots of things can be added to the meringue mixture for variation  - peppermint oil, lemon zest or flavoring, chocolate, cocoa powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, sprinkles, coffee, and cherry flavoring to name a few.

You can melt chocolate or make a creamy filling and put it between two meringues - a chocolate meringue sandwich.
As seen on Good Food Channel

Food coloring can be added if you like.  There are natural food colorings that are healthy if you really feel the need for color.
As seen on CookingRecipes

These are topped with whipped cream and berries.  - Delicious Magazine

Meringue Ingredients

RATIO: According to Joy of Baking, the standard ratio for meringues is 1/4 cup sugar to each egg white.  It's easy to adjust the recipe to make more or less.

SUGAR: I thought about using a little bit less sugar next time, but read that the sugar is what gives the meringues it's crispness.  I also read that you can play with the sugar a little bit to control how hard or soft the final meringue will be. Never use less than 2 TBSP per egg white. From what I read, if you want a meringue with a cute shape, you need the full amount.  If you want the meringue to sink down, cookie style, maybe less would be best.  Beating time is also a factor here - soft peaks vs firm peaks.

Speaking of sugar, I noticed lots of different sugars being used in other meringue recipes - powdered, confectioners, and caster.  I had never heard of caster sugar, but apparently, it's a super fine sugar. Fine sugars work great in meringues because they dissolve better.

CREAM OF TARTAR: Most meringue recipes call for cream of tartar or cider vinegar for stabilization.  My recipe didn't call for it.  I didn't use it.  My meringues appear stable and well adjusted.  :-)  However, I read that the cream of tartar allows the egg whites to reach their maximum volume when they are being whipped.  Maybe I should try it.

EGGS:  Here's a tip I knew, but it bears repeating: Separate each egg into a smaller bowl before adding to mixer. This way, if you mistakenly break the yolk, you can discard that egg without starting over.  The tiniest bit of yolk can wreck a meringue!   

The yolk has fat and fat of any kind will wreck the meringue.  For that same reason, make sure your bowls and utensils are very clean.  Don't use anything plastic - those tend to hold on to fats.

Eggs separate easiest if they are cold. But eggs right out of the refrigerator will not whip well.  Solution - Separate the egg whites, then let them sit and come to room temperature before whipping.

Meringue Shapes

I dolloped spoonfuls onto the baking pan.  They keep their shape as they cook.  My shapes were not all that attractive.  That didn't stop us from chowing down on them!

If you want a really pretty shape, you can follow the instructions given by Maddie Rudd on Hubpages. She fills ziploc baggie with meringue mixture and uses that to create meringues that look like Hershey Kisses.

If you add 2 mini chocolate chips to the meringues, as recommended on Susie The Foodie's site, you have Ghost Kisses!
Ghosts for Halloween!

These little critters were found at Yummy Tummy.

At Dessert First, they used a piping bag to create meringue baskets.  After cooking, the baskets were  filled with sorbets.  They sound good - a little something tart would go nicely with the sweet meringues.

Oven Time and Temperature

Cooking time and temperature seems to be a big factor in how the meringues turn out.  The main goal of cooking is for the meringues to dry out completely.  Low temperatures for longer cooking times seems to work best.

Some recommend turning the oven off at the end of cooking time and leaving the meringues in the oven for an hour or even overnight! I really think this is the most fail-proof way to go!

I didn't have the patience or willpower to try that.  Fifty minutes was long enough to wait.  But in the future, I'll make time for that.  Two of my larger meringues fell apart when I tried to pick them up.  They weren't done.  If the meringues are marsh-mallowy or chewy on the inside, they aren't dried out enough.

If the oven temperature is too high, the outside of the meringue will dry and set too quickly.  That causes the outside to separate from the inside.  They aren't as good when that happens.

It's best not to make meringues on a humid or rainy day.  But if you do, you may need to cook them longer.

Also of note - Parchment paper or aluminum foil is better to use than wax paper.  The meringues are less likely to stick.

Based on all I read, 
here's the recipe I'll keep in my collection:

Mini Meringues

    * 3 egg whites - with not even a tiny bit of yolk!
    * 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
    * 3/4 cup sugar - super fine sugars dissolve better
    * 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract (or almond)
    * Optional: 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (preferably lightly toasted - 8 to 10 min at 250 degrees)
  1. Preheat oven to 200 -or- 250 degrees.  See step 9.
  2. Line a cookie sheet/baking pan with parchment paper.
  3. Separate the egg whites, then let them sit for about 30 minutes to come to room temperature.
  4. Beat egg whites in a metal or glass bowl (no plastic) until foamy.  Add cream of tartar and continue beating until the egg whites are stiff and hold soft peaks.
  5. Add sugar very slowly while beating.  Continue beating. When the mixture stands in firm peaks, rug a little between your fingers.  If it still feels gritty, the sugar is not dissolved.  Beat it some more.
  6. Once the mixture stands in firm peaks and the sugar is completely dissolved, beat in the vanilla.  
  7. Carefully fold in nuts or coconut.  
  8. Drop by tiny spoonfuls onto lined cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  You can use a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip or a baggie with the corner cut out to make pretty and creative shapes.
  9.  Two Baking Options: Bake at 250 degrees for 50 minutes or 200 degrees for 90-105 minutes.  When done turn the oven off and open the oven door a crack. Leave the meringues in the oven overnight to finish drying out.  Note: Do not open the door at all during the first half of they cooking time - it could cause the meringues to crack.
  10. Store meringues at room temperature under glass or in an airtight container - NOT in the refrigerator!  They should keep for about a week in an airtight container.  
 Freezing:  Not sure - some say it's not recommended because cookies with no or low fat content don't freeze well.  Others say they freeze beautifully for up to 3 months. Some say they can be frozen, but they become rubbery when thawed.

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