These were my very first attempt at meringues, or meringue cookies. I hadn’t actually eaten that many before I baked these.
I found out that meringues are light, mostly air. Crisp on top, cracking into a shower of crumbs when you bite in. Very slightly chewy in the center (if you so desire, and I do). So delicate you can smash the tops with a careless elbow. French, like all truly finicky baking. Require a certain amount of attention and skill with eggs. Worth baking, worth eating.
I didn’t think the first batch would turn out because the recipes I looked at all had dire warnings about overwhipping the egg whites or what would happen if you let any yolk get in them. Frankly, it sounded way more finicky than I usually like. But I had 11 (!) egg whites already in a bowl from making fresh pasta, and I had the other ingredients in the pantry. I didn’t have much to lose but a couple of hours and some leftover egg whites.
And they came out great! You could do this by hand, but it was way easier with a stand mixer. I put it on a lower speed than was probably necessary and then hovered nervously the whole time, but the examples put in cookbooks and online by other kind cooks meant that I was able to identify the right stopping place, both times I did this.
Because after the first batch–vanilla–came out fine, I had to go for chocolate. With chocolate chips. The vanilla ones are great, if that’s your thing, but we all know by now that chocolate is where my heart is.
Tips for Egg Beating Excellence
The real key to meringues is when to stop beating. There are sort of two stages to this. First, you beat the eggs until they reach medium or firm peaks: that is, when you lift the whisk, the eggs form slender peaks that slowly droop. Then you add the other ingredients, which will melt the eggs into a thick, shiny, no-peaks-at-all sludge (you won’t panic, because you read this first). From then on, the consistency will be different–thicker, less visibly airy. It’s okay.
The stopping point is stiff peaks: when you lift the whisk, the eggs form slender peaks that maaaaybe just barely droop at the tips. Overbeating is possible, so I stopped maybe a few seconds early rather than a few seconds too late. If you’re still unsure, check out this handy visual guide from The Kitchn. If you’re really really unsure, experiment by whipping one egg white to overbeaten death so you know what it looks like.
Here are my first-timer, not-as-hard-as-it-looks tips:
- Do be finicky about making sure that your bowl and beaters are clean and dry.
- Separate the eggs one at a time over a small bowl. That way if you have an egg-cident (don’t kill me) involving yolk, you can toss that one without ruining the whole batch.
- Be watchful, but patient. It takes a while for the egg whites to get to the magical stiff peak place, especially after adding sugar, but it’ll happen. If in doubt, check more often.
Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux. I’ll be upfront: this isn’t a cheap wine (it runs about $45 a bottle). This is a special occasion dessert wine that looks and tastes like liquid afternoon sunshine. This meringues-and-sunshine combination would be fabulous served as a light dessert course, meant to be savored slowly after a good meal.
If that’s not in your budget, any Sauternes will go. These dessert wines can be expensive, but you can get a bottle for as little as about $20.
4 large egg whites (120 grams total), room temperature
1 cup superfine sugar (you can make this by grinding 1 cup + 2 teaspoons white sugar in a food processor)
1 teaspoon vanilla OR 1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Bare pinch of salt
Optional: 1 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 300F. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.
Start with a clean, dry bowl and whisk or mixer. Beat egg whites until they form firm peaks.
Still beating, slowly add the sugar, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Beat just until a lifted whisk shows stiff peaks. Gently fold in the chocolate chips.
Use a pastry bag or zipper bag with a tip cut off to form little rounds, a couple tablespoons each (hey will not spread in the oven).
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until hard and very slightly browned. Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes.
Seal leftovers in airtight containers for up to a week.