Thursday, February 12, 2009

Musings and Meringues

I am very fortunate to have a child who is not only a great eater and who doesn't have any food allergies. Well, unless you count fish. It's not an allergy per se but a deep and utter HATRED of all things from the sea other than canned tuna (mercury be damned), fried calamari or New England clam chowder. Let's not discuss that she used to gobble up my soy glazed salmon until one day she realized it was salmon and "not chicken!!!!????" and proceeded to spit it out, despite having eaten most of her portion that evening and at countless dinners in the past.

Where was I? Allergies. Right.

Now that I have a school-aged child I have been introduced to the confusing world of childhood food allergies. In 2 1/2 years of school we have encountered allergies to: peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, shellfish, pineapple, strawberries and a few I am probably forgetting. I really feel for parents who have to confront these issues and fear for their child's health on a daily basis. I couldn't imagine...

The reason I bring up the allergies is that I had originally planned on making heart shaped cut outs and icing them in varying shades of red and pink for a kindergarten Valentine's Day party (recipe). But I then discovered a student in our class had both a wheat and dairy allergy. So I decided to come up with a treat he and everyone else could have at the party since someone else was supplying cupcakes (which he wouldn't be able to eat).

Fortunately I was with my friend Sarah (a walking font of culinary knowledge) when I found out about the allergies. What on earth could I make? "Simple," said Sarah. "You can make meringues." Freakin' brilliant. A quick e-mail to the child's mother revealed that eggs were indeed OK and pink meringue cookies were on the agenda.

I usually bake meringues a few times a year. Every time I make them I'm reminded of how unbelievably simple they are to make. Plus, they're fat free. And, they're great for Passover because they contain no dairy (no worries about kosher dietary rules) and no flour. They also pair really well with lemon curd (a great use for the yolks since this recipe calls only for egg whites). That of course negates the whole fat free and kosher thing due to the addition of copious amounts of butter. But that's another blog entry. Why get ahead of myself?

If you can, avoid making meringues on damp and rainy days. The moisture in the air will be absorbed by the sugar and it will effect the consistency of the end result.

Meringue Cookies
Yields approximately 7 dozen 1 1/2 inch kisses

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
food coloring (optional)

  • Preheat your oven to 200 F.
  • Combine the egg whites and sugar in a glass or metal bowl (the bowl of a standing mixer is preferable).
  • Place the egg and sugar mixture over a lightly simmering pot of water but do not allow the bowl to come in contact with the water or your eggs will cook. Pieces of cooked egg white are not all that tasty in meringues.
  • Whisk the mixture together until the sugar is dissolved; 3-5 minutes. Add in the vanilla.
  • Using either a standing mixer with the whisk attachment or an electric hand beater being whipping the egg whites on low speed. Add in a few drops of food coloring at this point if you want. I prefer the gels to the liquid.
  • Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the egg whites are shiny and form stiff peaks. Tip: when you stop your mixer and pull up on the top the egg whites that were attached to the attachment should remain standing in the bowl and not flop over.
  • Using a small dollop of the meringue affix sheets of parchment paper or aluminum foil to your baking sheets (you'll need 2). Some recipes call for masking tape here. Use the meringue - I learned the tip working in a bakery.
  • Using either a spoon or a pastry bag drop dollops or pipe kisses onto the sheet leaving about an inch in between each cookie.
  • Bake for about 2 hours in the 200 degree oven. Check periodically to make sure the meringues aren't browning. If they are, lower the temperature to 175 F. You're not baking these as much as allowing them to dry out.
  • After 2 hours turn off the oven and DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR. Allow the meringues to remain in the oven for at least another hour. They will continue to dry out in the residual heat of the oven. I usually leave mine in overnight as I like my meringues to be very light and crispy on the inside.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I'm famous! They look beautiful :-)