Snowy White Meringues
The snow fell here in Zürich and I went right into the kitchen to bake cookies, an association I have been making since I was a child. Back then it was just your basic Tollhouse recipe; this time it was my own Banana Macadamia Chocolate Chunk cookies. The snow has stopped falling and the city still looks like it is draped in a clean white sheet. White every which way you look; it’s beautiful. Big pillows of meringue top the roofs of houses and royal icing coats the church spires.
After a walk around the city admiring the wintery – and sugary – scenery, I went back into the kitchen to whip up a bowl of the most snowy white meringue I could.
Egg whites and sugar. That’s all meringue is made of, just these two simple ingredients. Some people add a touch of salt or cornstarch as a stabilizer; this will depend on the freshness of your eggs and if you’re more interested in volume or stability. If you want volume, go for eggs that are 3-4 days old. For stability, fresh eggs are best. Either way, separate your eggs when cold (it’s easier), and then be sure to let the whites come to room temperature before you start whipping, or it will take much longer to get them going. It’s true that there are a lot of “rules” when making meringue, and I do recommend heeding them all to ensure that your egg whites do not stay flat and airless: equipment should be clean as a whistle, not a trace of egg yolk in the bowl, avoid humid days for baking, and a copper bowl is best followed by stainless steel and glass – but not plastic. Keep these things in mind as well as a basic proportion, and you have carte blanche to play in the kitchen as you please. I love making meringues for that reason, and also because licking the bowl (and whisk) is one of life’s little pleasures.
For this time, I went with plain meringues to follow my snowy white theme. But I’ll be making meringues again, and you can bet there will be a variety of fun mix-ins. Until then…
Plain Meringues2 egg whites
1/2 cup superfine sugar pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsuis).
Beat egg whites and salt in a clean bowl for a few minutes until they get frothy. With mixer on, or whisk in continuous motion, gradually add sugar spoonful by spoonful. If using whisk, continue for as long as your arm will allow and then call for backup! (Since my stand mixer sadly does not work in Switzerland, I use a hand mixer with my elbow propped up against the wall and a magazine in front of me!) You’re looking for stiff peaks – so that when you lift the whisk from the unbaked meringue and turn it upside down, the batter will stand up straight and not flop over (soft peaks).
Bake for one hour and check to see if they lift easily off of the parchment paper/baking mat. If they stick, they are not done yet. When they are, turn the oven off and open the door. Let the meringues continue to dry out for another hour.
This way they will have a crispy hard shell and stay nice and chewy in the center.