Simple and pure, meringue makes light, almost cloud-like cookies and pastries. With a crisp outer shell, slightly chewy center and a subtle sweetness, baked meringue is a melt-in-your-mouth delight. It’s also extremely versatile. After mastering the basics, you'll be making these underrated cookies for almost any occasion.
Made from just sugar and egg whites, with a few optional ingredients for flavoring, turning meringue into delicate cookies is simple. First, you whip the egg whites until frothy, then start whipping in the sugar. Keep whipping until the meringue holds tall, sturdy peaks when you lift the whisk out of the bowl. After that, all you have to do is bake the meringue low and slow until totally crisp.
Since there are so few ingredients and instructions, it is important to follow everything closely. Let’s take a closer look at some tips and tricks for whipping up a proper meringue, as well as some things to avoid.
Tips for whipping egg whites
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For maximum volume, it is important to keep egg whites and all equipment as free from fat as possible. This means no grease in your mixing bowl and no drips of egg yolk in the whites. Try using glass, stainless steel or copper mixing bowls; avoid plastic bowls since they can be porous and hold grease. In addition to being free from grease, make sure the mixing bowl and whisk are both dry.
Room-temperature eggs whip better than cold ones. After separating the egg whites from the yolks, let them rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
To make sure the sugar dissolves completely, add it very gradually. In the end, the meringue should be silky and not at all grainy, which would mean you still have undissolved sugar.
To help stabilize the meringue, mix in a bit of cream of tartar. It might not increase the volume of the meringue, but it will keep it from breaking down too quickly.
What to avoid
To avoid cracks and unnecessary browning in baked meringues, be sure the oven is fully warmed, but not too hot before baking the meringue. It’s best to use an oven thermometer to check the temperature.
Avoid baking meringues on humid or rainy days. If you have to do it, increase the baking time and let them completely dry out before using or storing.
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Pinch salt (optional)
Preheat oven to 215 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Begin beating the egg whites in an electric mixer with the whisk attachment on medium low. Beat in the cream of tartar, vanilla and salt, if using.
Increase speed to medium. Gradually start adding in the sugar, a little bit at a time. Watch for the “soft plop” stage, when the foam and air bubbles start to tighten and the whites become opaque. Add the remaining sugar as the whites turn into “soft peaks,” when the whites begin to hold their shape, but will slump over and melt back into the bowl.
Increase the speed to medium-high. Watch for the “firm peaks” stage. If you pull the whisk straight out of the bowl, a peak will form, with a tip that folds over onto itself.
Add gel food coloring or additional flavors, if using. Continue beating until the egg whites reach the “stiff peaks” stage, when peaks stand up straight. The whites will be glossy and smooth. If you rub a bit between your fingertips, it should feel silky, not grainy.
Gently fold in any other ingredients, such as chopped nuts or chocolate, with a large rubber spatula.
Fit a piping bag with a plain or star tip. Unfold the top of the piping bag about halfway, then use a rubber spatula to fill the bag with the meringue. Fill the bag only 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full to prevent the meringue from spilling out the top of the bag. Pipe out the meringue. (You can skip the bag and use a soup spoon to scoop large, rustic meringues.)
Bake 60 to 90 minutes, or until the outside is crisp and the inside is dry yet chewy. Turn the oven off, crack the door open, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven.
Yield: 48 (2-inch) cookies.