Published December 8, 2006.
Why is this sugar and egg white confection so hard to make right?
Too often, meringue cookies are either sticky and chewy as taffy, or bland and crumbly as Styrofoam.
We wanted a thin, brittle-crisp exterior that shattered under the first bite to reveal a lightly sweetened, crisp interior with just a hint of chew.
With no room for changing ingredients, the answer was to perfect our method. The basic French method of making meringue—beating egg whites with sugar until stiff peaks form—was not only the simplest method but also produced cookies with the most delicate texture. One important detail was to beat the whites slowly, which lent stability. Also important was adding the sugar slowly in two batches once the whites were mostly whipped. Then they had a firm enough structure to hold and absorb the sugar. We further found that room temperature eggs gained greater volume than those fresh from the fridge. The optimal sugar/egg white ratio proved to be 1/4 cup sugar to 1 egg white. Finally, a little cream of tartar gave the meringue more substantial texture and a little vanilla gave it an extra boost of flavor.list of recipes