Meringues have always fascinated me. What a stunning notion that you can beat air and sugar into a viscous mass of gloppy egg whites and transform it into a billowy white stiffness that bakes into something crunchy yet chewy.
I was twelve years old the first time I made, or tried to make, meringue kisses. The recipe was from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, and in the list of ingredients I came across something I’d never heard of: Cream of tartar. What was it? My parents didn’t know, and our landlady who lived upstairs and baked, wasn’t home. So I asked a family friend who was visiting what he thought it might be. He said he knew of tartar sauce and that it was made with mayonnaise and that maybe I could try that.
Not knowing what else to do, I plopped in ¼ teaspoon from our Best Foods jar and beat away. And beat, and beat, and nothing happened. The whites just refused to whip. I learned later how fat prevents the egg white proteins from joining together and forming air cells. But at the time I just cried, and threw out the mess.
When our landlady came home she told me cream of tartar was an acid powder that stabilized egg whites and that I could buy it at the grocery store. I ran off to buy it, and my next try at meringue kisses drew raves.
Over the years I’ve modified the basic recipe into something more dramatic. Here it is.
Chocolate and Pecan Meringue Smooches
These are crisp meringue “kisses” flavored with chocolate and pecans, dusted with cocoa, and topped with chocolate coated coffee beans. They are crunchy and sweetly chewy and delicious plain or with coffee. Or serve them along with bowls of ice cream. Be sure your mixing bowl and beaters are scrupulously clean as small traces of grease will prevent the formation of a stiff meringue.
Use silicone baking pan liner, or cooking parchment, or line your cookie sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 ounces chopped pecans
Unsweetened cocoa, for dusting
Chocolate coated coffee beans
1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet (14 x 17 inches) with cooking parchment, aluminum foil, or silicone baking pan liner.
2. In a clean grease-free mixer bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed until the whites are foamy.
Add the cream of tartar and continue beating on medium speed until the whites form softly curling peaks when the beater is raised.
While beating on medium speed, gradually sprinkle in the sugar in 2-tablespoon installments and beat about 30 seconds between additions. Stop to scrape the side of the bowl occasionally. When all the sugar has been beaten in, add the vanilla and salt. Beat on medium speed until incorporated, then increase the speed to medium high and beat until the meringue forms stiff, shiny, unwavering peaks when the beater is raised, about 5 more minutes.
Fold in the chocolate and pecans.
3. Spoon 16 mounds of meringue onto the prepared baking sheet spacing them 1- to 2-inches apart. Dust the mounds with cocoa and stick a chocolate coffee bean into the top of each kiss.
Bake 1 hour. During this time the meringues will have settled into puffy-looking mounds, their outsides will be dry, but their insides will be soft and chewy. The smooches are done when dry to the touch and you can pick one off the parchment without it sticking. Bake a few minutes more if not done. When they’re ready, turn off the oven, prop the door open slightly, and let the meringues cool in the turned off oven for 30 minutes more.
Remove meringues from the parchment, and arrange them on a serving dish.
Store leftover smooches airtight. They’ll stay fresh for up to 1 week.
Makes 16 smooches.
Okay, you’re probably asking: What do I do with the egg yolks? Either cover them tightly and refrigerate them for up to 4 days, or stir them with 1 teaspoon sugar, tightly cover, and freeze for up to 2 months. When thawed, the yolks will be fluid enough to cook with. In my next post we’ll turn them into a custard sauce.