Published March 1, 2008.
These classic cookies can have a Styrofoam-like texture and a saccharine-sweet flavor. How could we avoid these pitfalls?
A classic meringue cookie may have only two ingredients—egg whites and sugar. But they require precise timing. When things go wrong, you can end up with a meringue that’s as dense as Styrofoam or weepy, gritty, and cloyingly sweet.
A great meringue cookie should emerge from the oven glossy and white, with a shatteringly crisp texture that dissolves instantly in your mouth.
We chose a simple French meringue over a fussier Italian meringue. The French version, in which egg whites are whipped with sugar, is the simpler of the two; the Italian meringue, in which hot sugar syrup is poured into the whites, produces cookies that are dense and candylike. But despite its simplicity, even the French method can be finicky. The challenge is timing—the key to glossy, evenly textured meringue is to add the sugar at just the right time. Specifically, sugar should be added only when the whites have been whipped enough to gain some volume, but still have enough free water left in them for the sugar to dissolve completely. The best time is just before the soft-peak stage, when the meringue is very frothy and bubbly but the whites are not quite firm enough to hold a peak. Adding the sugar in a slow stream down the side of the bowl of a running stand mixer helps distribute the sugar more evenly, creating a smoother meringue. Surprisingly, we found that cream of tartar wasn’t necessary. Without it the whites formed more slowly, giving a wider time frame in which to add the sugar. It was also important to form the cookies in a uniform shape. We found we had to pipe them from either a pastry bag or a zipper-lock bag with a corner cut off. Baking proved surprisingly simple. Only an hour in a 225-degree oven followed by another hour in the turned-off oven dried the meringues perfectly. We also wanted to eliminate the cloying sweetness that often mars meringues; replacilist of recipes