Photo Credit: elena rosemond-hoerr
Like many of you, I am a home cook. I have no more culinary training than what my family taught me, and I go into the majority of my cooking endeavors blindly. In fact, the usual formula in my kitchen is as follows: I decide I want to learn something, I fail (usually miserably), I mope, my husband encourages me to try it again, I make the necessary tweaks and rework recipe, it usually works. The fail/mope/encourage/try again part sometimes repeats two or three times.
Right before Thanksgiving I decided I wanted to learn how to make meringue cookies. My original recipe was for mint chocolate chip meringues. The first batch? Awful. Something about the mint extract made it so the egg whites could never truly inflate, and instead of being awesome like they were supposed to be, they were very chewy. Not good. Fail #1.
Round two I made pomegranate meringues. I had this vision in the grocery store of beautiful red seeds suspended in air. And boy did they look beautiful. For all of two seconds, and then the juice of the seeds deflated the whole meringue and we were left with a big, red, gooey mess. Fail #2.
After that I returned to the mint idea, thinking that if I just whipped the whites longer and cut the amount of extract that I could get the right texture. And it worked, kind of. The meringue was still a little pasty, glossy almost, not fluffy and stiff and full of air like it was supposed to be. But we discovered that if you made the cookies dime-size dollops that they baked all the way through and achieved that perfect meringue cookie finish, a big puffy melt in your mouth treat. Win #1.
My final attempt combined everything I had learned from the previous three batches. I nixed the extract entirely and added spiced cocoa powder, going for the spicy/sweet combination that is all the rage these days. I learned that you should whip just the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff, adding in the sugar (a little at a time) while whipping until the whites are big and fluffy and so stiff they can stand on their own. Then, after the whites are fully extended, you fold in the flavor makers, chocolate chips or spices, etc.
The last batch was Win #2, and it was a win by a landslide. The cookies were like little pockets of air, they melted in your mouth, and out burst this incredible flavor. It may have taken four tries, but when I finally got it right there was dancing in the kitchen. Today I'm going to give you the basic formula—a standard meringue recipe, and encourage you to do some experimenting of your own. Maybe add a couple tablespoons of your favorite pumpkin mocha mix, or crush up a peppermint stick for bursts of mint. Just take what I learned from my failures and have fun!
4 egg whites
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until the whites are stiff. Add in sugar, a tablespoon at a time, fully incorporating. When the meringue mixture is so stiff it could stand on its own, fold in whatever flavor makers you want.
Bake at 300 for 25 minutes. Let cool on pan and then transfer to a wire rack.