Christmas is just two week away and the panic is starting to build. Did I do all the things I wanted to do ahead of time? Do I have enough cookies baked? Is the house ready for guests? Do we have gifts for all the family? Is all the decorating done? Are there enough little items to fill all the stockings? Oh no, I still have to send out cards … the to-do list at this time of year seems endless. Relax, take a breath, and enjoy today’s recipe.
I love meringue cookies. Not only are they beautiful, they are naturally gluten-free, and are a lovely addition to any dessert platter. The other benefit is that while they do take a long time to make, bake and cool in the oven, most of that time is unattended, leaving me free to get other things done while they are baking and cooling in the oven. Unlike cut-out cookies, which are incredibly labor intensive, these are easy to make and a real crowd pleaser.
Today I decided to make mini meringues and fill them with a lightly sweetened mascarpone cheese flavored with chocolate extract. They are the perfect size for popping whole into your mouth and would be a wonderful addition to your holiday dessert buffets. You can make a larger version if you prefer, just use a larger piping tip, and you do not have to adjust the baking time.
When I was growing up there was only one kind of meringue cookie – plain white vanilla. These days you can add nearly any flavoring to the beaten egg whites to create a variety of colors, flavors, and combinations. Today I folded in cocoa powder and used some chocolate extract in the filling making them perfect for Chocolate Monday.
If you want to experiment with other flavorings, separate the beaten whites into small bowls and stir different extracts into each bowl. Add a couple drops of food coloring to each bowl so you can easily tell them apart.
You can make these cookies as simple or fancy as you like. I had crushed peppermint candies and chocolate jimmies on hand so I rolled a few of today’s treats in those for a little change of pace and fun color. Finely minced fresh mint leaves would also be fun to add – when included with some of the crushed peppermints you’ve created the classic red and green colors for Christmas.
If this is your first time making meringue, you are in for a treat. This is best made with a powerful stand mixer. Doing this with a hand mixer or, heaven forbid, by hand with a whisk would be challenging even for the hardiest of souls. My KitchenAid gives me the freedom to move around the kitchen while it does the work!
Piping can be intimidating to some so if you don’t want to do that or don’t have the equipment, just use two teaspoons and drop little dollops onto the parchment-covered baking sheets.
The only problem with these cookies is that once they are filled, they will dissolve rather quickly. So don’t fill them until right before you are ready to serve them – no more than an hour and you should be fine.
If you have extra filling left over, don’t worry. It would be great smeared on waffles, pancakes, blinis, or toast. You could thin it slightly with a little milk and turn it into a dip for other cookies. There is no way this delicious cream will go to waste!!
Tonight a couple of friends are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. The Artist and I are going to surprise them at their dinner at a local restaurant with a couple of bags of these cute cookies ~ the perfect size to feed each other, LOL!
Have a wonderful Chocolate Monday everyone!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Set up your piping bag and tip ahead of time and set in a heavy-bottomed drinking glass. Fold the top down to create a large cuff (this protects your hands and keeps things clean when you fill the bag). Then you will be ready to fill the bag and pipe the meringues as soon as the egg whites and sugar are beaten to stiff peaks.
Grease is the enemy of whipping egg whites, so make sure your bowl, whisks, spatulas, and other equipment is freshly washed with soap and hot water before you begin.
Meringues are naturally gluten-free. As always, be cautious with the ingredients you add to the egg whites and sugar to be certain they do not contain any gluten-filled ingredients; read all the labels carefully.
Kitchen Skill: Warming Egg Whites to Room Temperature
Many recipes call for egg whites at room temperature (or whole eggs at times). Having egg whites at room temperature gives them more height when you whip them – yes, it really does make a difference! But it is hard for me to remember to put the eggs out to warm up enough in advance, so I use an old trick.
Working over a medium bowl, holding an egg upright in your hand, crack it and carefully remove top half the shell. Allow the whites of the egg to drop into the bowl and carefully “pour” the remaining egg white and yolk into your opposite hand. Very gently pass the yolk back and forth between your hands, allowing the whites to flow through your fingers into the bowl while keep the yolk intact. Place the yolk in a separate bowl and repeat with remaining eggs. If there is even a tiny speck of yolk in the whites, they won’t whip properly. Be very careful with this step!
If you break a yolk, start over and use the whites you already have separated for another dish or add a couple of whole eggs and scramble them for breakfast. They yolks can be used to make lemon curd or other recipes as well as adding to other whole eggs for cooking and eating.
Fill a large bowl with about 2-inches of hot water. Carefully set the bowl with the egg whites into the water and set aside to warm. If needed, replace the hot water by first removing the bowl with the whites and setting it aside. Pour out the cool water, replace it with hot, and set the white back into the water to continue warming. With our cold weather, today I had to reheat the water twice before the whites were at the right temperature.
When the eggs are just slightly cool to the touch, they are at room temperature and ready for beating into a magnificent meringue!
- Cocoa Meringue Cookies
- 5 egg whites, at room temperature (see Kitchen Skill above)
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup granulated sugar, pulsed in a food processor to make superfine sugar
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (gluten-free if needed)
- Chocolate Cream Filling
- 8 oz (about 1 cup) mascarpone cheese, chilled
- 3 to 4 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp chocolate extract or chocolate liqueur
- Cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar, for dusting, optional
- Set oven racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat to 225°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Make Meringue: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until foamy. Add the salt, cream of tartar, and vanilla and beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add superfine sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat on high until meringue is stiff and glossy, about 1-1/2 minutes longer. Continue beating until you can no longer feel any sugar grains in the mixture (pinch a little between your fingers). The egg whites and sugar will be glossy and beaten so stiff that you can literally hold the bowl upside down and they won’t fall out of the bowl!
- Remove bowl from the machine and set the whisk attachment aside. Using a large flexible spatula, gently fold in the cocoa powder until there are no more streaks.
- Form and Bake Meringues: Transfer mixture to a piping bag fitted with a star tip. Twist the top closed and pipe small cookies onto the prepared sheet. Try to make them all the same size. Leave a little room between each one to allow the hot air to circulate easily. Using damp fingers, press half of the tops flat (these will be the bottom cookies).
- If you have extra meringue like I did, sprinkle a little peppermint extract over the top of the meringue and stir it in. Use a spring-loaded ice cream scoop and make another baking sheet full of round meringue cookies.
- Place baking sheets in the hot oven and bake until completely dry, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Turn off the oven and leave the cookies in the oven until completely cool, another 2 hours
- Prepare Filling: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and chocolate liqueur. Stir together until smooth. The mixture should be the consistency of a soft frosting. Don’t overbeat or the mixture will get grainy.
- Assemble Cookies: Working with the flattened “bottom” cookies, spread a generous amount of the filling on the top of each cookie. You can do this with a mini off-set spatula or you can pipe a dollop on each one. (Piping is much faster.) Top with one of the “top” cookies (the ones with the pointed tops (flat side on the filling) and press gently together. Set back on the parchment-lined sheet, and repeat until all of the ones you are serving are filled.
- Decorate the Cookies: You can roll the edges of the filled cookies in some crushed peppermint candies or chocolate jimmies if you like. When the cookies are all filled, place a little powdered sugar in a wire sieve and sift lightly over the tops of half of the cookies. Repeat with sifted cocoa powder on the second half. Best served within an hour of when they are assembled.
- Make Ahead: The meringue cookies can be made up to several days in advance, but do not fill them. Store in an airtight container. On the day you plan to serve these, make the filling and sandwich the cookies together with some of the filling. Sprinkle on some cocoa powder and serve.
- Yield: about 20 sandwich cookies, depending on the size (I got about 40 mini sandwich cookies
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