Two weeks ago I had been religiously checking the weather forecast – after incessant rain, there was one day that promised sunshine. Admittedly, there was more than one day that was dry but everyone was held in suspense, anxious for snow (and it did snow, becoming slush by morning). I was on a mission to make meringue: crunchy, crisp meringue that could only be worthy of praise and met with approval and always makes you reach for just one more, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.
Normally I am not so finicky about weather conditions and baking, but I was serious about getting my meringue right after reading and researching countless hours about meringue, which included writing a thousand-something-word article on the very subject and technique that took me a week to write, edit, and rewrite (and repeat). Yes, I am serious. As I wrote that article and the accompanying recipe, what I’m sharing here with you today and which was as of then simply a recipe in theory – not yet tested – I thought that perhaps I was getting ahead of myself and that I was starting to twist facts to suit my theory (or perhaps I’ve just read too much Sherlock Holmes). It took much personal effort to not write any further, especially recipe writing, until I had made the meringue myself.
I had decided upon an Italian meringue, in which a hot syrup is poured into softly beaten egg whites and beaten to stiff peaks. It’s similar to making marshmallows and it is now, I believe, the best way to make meringue for those of us who don’t use refined sugar since honey in its natural state does not fold well into soft or stiff egg whites.
If you’re a long-time reader of Z’s Cup of Tea, you may recall my previous meringue history that I’ve mentioned in passing: eggy, not sweet enough – a love-and-hate relationship, if you will. All shortcomings due to my false opinion that recipes were simply calling for too much sugar but it wasn’t until May of last year when I made meringue cookies with sugar – in order to get to the bottom of this then issue – and my “reconciliation with meringue” that I understood one tablespoon of honey per egg white does not cut it.
Blissfully, my first batch of Italian meringue turned out perfectly, fulfilling all my expectations including what I had taken the liberty of writing about as if accomplished before, and I was pleased that I had at last mastered crunchy meringues with that light and airy interior reminiscent of sea foam – and all without a touch of refined sugar. Sometimes, I honestly don’t believe that my first-time successes (particularly those that are regarded as being more advanced and difficult such as puff pastry or poaching eggs) has anything to do with whether or not I have a natural knack for it but if I have done enough research, poring over the material so many times that I know it like the back of my hand and thus make practically no room for mistakes.
I will be sharing my post on meringue next week. I will link the article in this post once it’s up. Until then, the recipe.
Crispy Crunchy Meringue Cookies
As I will be explaining in my meringue article next week, adding water to the egg whites will increase their volume and also become frothy sooner than egg whites on their own or with the usual stabilizer suspects. The vanilla extract is important and integral to this recipe as it balances and offsets the honey’s cloying sweetness.
Makes 23 cookies (2 large egg whites) to 58 cookies (4 to 5 large egg whites); if the latter sounds like too much, just wait – they’ll be gone in a flash. (I’m guilty of eating nearly a whole tray by myself.)
About 1/2 cup honey (I eyeballed it)
1/3 cup water
2 to 4 or 5 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 to 1 tsp. ice cold water (use 1 tsp. if using the larger proportion of egg whites)
1/2 to 1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 250 to 255ºF. Line a baking sheet or cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Hot syrup: Cook the honey and water, without stirring, in a small pot over medium heat until it reaches 235 to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.
Meringue: While the syrup is cooking, use a balloon whisk to beat the egg whites with the salt and water to soft peaks in a large metal or stainless steel bowl. When the syrup is done, remove from heat and immediately pour into the soft peak egg whites in a slow, steady stream while continuing to whip the egg whites at the same time. If you’re doing this by hand, at this stage it would be helpful to have someone pour the syrup in while you whip it in the egg whites.
Once all the syrup has been poured in, continue whipping the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Stiff peak egg whites should hold and retain their shape. Add vanilla extract and rapidly beat for about 2 more minutes. If done properly, this meringue is slow to start weeping. (If it starts weeping, should it arrive at that point, just use the same whisk to beat back into shape.)
Spoon or pipe the meringue on to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 75 minutes or until light to deep golden brown and dry to the touch. Remove meringues from oven and cool on the pan, you may hear crackling as the meringues cool and finish drying out. Peel the meringues away from the parchment paper once cool enough to touch. They should peel away easily and should sound like a ping pong ball when tapped with a fingernail. Enjoy!