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But of course, meringues -- what better way to watch your waistline and still have "sweets" (and we don't mean watch your waistline grow!). Crunchy-crisp, feather-light and sweet, meringues are very easy to make, they're nonfat and fairly low in calories, and they add an elegant touch to the cookie plate. You can choose to leave them "plain," flavored simply with a hint of vanilla, or bake them with grated bittersweet chocolate or nuts folded in. We offer an array of suggestions for flavor options -- the choice is yours! And remember, baked with no nuts or chocolate, each meringue has only 59 calories and 0 grams of fat. What a perfect option for those who don't want to stray!
Meringues may be dropped by the tablespoonful onto parchment paper-lined-baking sheets, or piped onto greased and floured baking sheets using a pastry bag for more elegant shapes. You can also choose to leave them white, or add food coloring; gel or paste colors work the best, as they're more concentrated than regular liquid food coloring.
6 large (about 7/8 cup, 7 to 8 ounces) egg whites, room temperature
1 1/4 cups (9 1/2 ounces) Baker's Special, sanding, extra-fine or castor sugar
1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract OR Princess Cake and Cookie Flavoring OR almond extract OR 1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia Flavor
1 cup chopped diced nuts, almond flour or pecan meal (optional)
1 cup toasted coconut (optional)
1 cup chocolate sprinkles or finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (optional)
sugar, nonpareils or decorettes (optional)
Carefully separate the six eggs. Note: Eggs are easiest to separate when cold, but the whites should be at room temperature when you beat them so that they'll achieve maximum volume. The easiest way to do this is to separate the eggs straight from the refrigerator, then place the bowl with the egg whites into another bowl filled with warm water. Use a fork to break up the whites. After about 10 minutes, the whites will be warm enough to use.
While you're waiting for the whites to warm, sift the sugars together. Prepare the pans you'll be using; parchment paper is the easiest, most fail-safe way to bake meringues, but you may choose instead to lightly grease and flour the pans. You don't want the meringues to darken on the bottom, so if your pans are a dark metal, you may want to double pan (nest one pan within another) to prevent the bottoms of the meringues from over-baking. Preheat your oven to 250°F.
Place the room-temperature egg whites into the bowl of a mixer. Add the cream of tartar. Beat on slow speed until the cream of tartar is dissolved and the egg whites are foamy. Add the salt. Slowly increase the speed of the mixer. When the volume of the eggs has doubled and they begin to look opaque, sprinkle in about half the sugar. Continue to beat, until the whites are glossy and getting stiff. Add the remaining sugar and mix until it's evenly distributed and the whites hold a stiff peak. Fold in the flavoring and coloring of you choice, and nuts or chocolate, if desired.
Note: If you want a striped effect, divide the egg white mixture in half, and add the color to one half. Fold the white and colored meringues together, just until stripes form.
Drop the mixture by the tablespoonful onto the prepared pans, or fill a pastry bag and use it to pipe out any design you wish. Top them with colored sugar, sprinkles, grated nuts or chocolate, if desired.
Place the meringues in the oven. After 30 minutes, reduce the oven heat to 225°F, and continue to bake for another 1 to 2 hours. For a meringue that's chewy on the inside after cooling (when you break it open, it will still be soft) bake for the shorter time (about 1 hour). When the cookie is finished its center will measure 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. For crunchy-all-the-way-through meringues, bake them for the longer time (about 2 hours). To test if they're done, pick one up; it should feel very light. Tap the bottom; it should feel hollow. Break one open; it should be dry. Taste the broken one while it's still warm; it should melt in your mouth. When the meringue is finished it should be almost white, with just a hint of color around the bottom. Turn off the oven, prop the door open and allow the meringues to cool on the pan in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the meringues from the pans, and place them on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in airtight containers for up to several weeks. Yield: 32 cookies.
To each batch, add one of the following flavor options with the color of your choice:
-- 1 teaspoon each vanilla and Princess Cake and Cookie Flavoring
-- 1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia flavoring
-- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon oil
-- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil
-- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon vanilla-butternut flavor (plus 1 cup chopped pecans)
-- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon coconut flavoring (plus 1 cup toasted coconut)
-- 1 to 2 teaspoons raspberry flavoring
-- 1 to 2 teaspoons Creme Bouquet Flavoring
-- 1 to 2 teaspoons Island Spice Flavoring
-- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon orange oil
-- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil
-- 1 to 2 teaspoons almond extract, or 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon bitter almond oil (plus 1 cup toasted/chopped/sliced almonds)
Nutrition per serving (1 cookie without nuts or chocolate, 20g): 59 cal, 0g fat, 1g protein, 14g sugar, 29mg sodium, 9mg potassium, 1 mg phosphorus.
Nutrition per serving (1 cookie made with nuts and chocolate, 28g): 103 cal, 3.6g fat, 1g protein, 1g complex carbohydrates, 1g sugar, 29mg sodium, 38mg potassium, 2mg calcium, 11mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XII, No. 1, Holiday 2000 issue.