When I was a little girl growing up in Orinda, California, my mother used to drive us occasionally to a neighboring town called Rheem. Near the movie theater there was a candy store where I would always get meringue cookies before we would go see the show. I can still remember biting into each one, feeling my teeth sinking through the crunchy exterior and easing into the sugary center. Ahhh, the memories of some moments will never fade!
Today’s cookies are a far cry from the dry and crumbly version I grew up eating, but just as sweet and lovely. I made two versions today, a vanilla meringue and a chocolate meringue, both with chocolate chips. You don’t have to make both versions, but they are delicious and make your plate look much more interesting!
If you are looking for naturally gluten and dairy-free desserts, these are perfect for you! There is no flour or milk required, just egg whites and sugar plus a touch of crème of tartar for stabilization. If you don’t have crème of tartar already, make sure you buy some. There is no substitute that will work as well. It has a really long shelf life and is needed with any meringues that you make, so it is a good investment for future baking.
Meringues may be the easiest cookies to make, although most people never attempt them. They are ethereal puffs of pure sugar that somehow becomes hard and crunchy without browning. That scares a lot of bakers but it shouldn’t. Just like good barbecued meats, the secret is low and slow. Put them in a low oven and walk away, then turn it off and walk away again.
If you want the beautiful shapes that you usually see when buying meringues at the store or bakery, put the whipped egg whites into a piping bag fitted with a round or star tip and pipe onto parchment sheets. They will be perfectly formed and equal in size, just like the pros make!
I have to warn you, these are some of the sweetest cookies I’ve ever made, which makes them the perfect accompaniment to tea or coffee. If you want them less sweet, you can cut back slightly on the sugar and use a bittersweet chocolate instead of semisweet. Also, if you want a more traditional flavor you could cut back the amount of chocolate chips by half. I know, blasphemy for all you chocoholics out there, but it is an option.
If you are starting to put together your baking list for the holidays, add these gems to the selection. Divide the mixture into separate bowls and stir in a little paste food coloring into each one to make bright spots of color on your holiday dessert platters.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Never attempt to make meringues or caramels on really humid days. The extra moisture in the air may keep the meringues from drying completely and caramelization is nearly impossible. Look for dry sunny days when you are making either of these treats.
These cookies are naturally gluten-free and dairy-free!
Kitchen Skill: Best Way to Separate Eggs
The safest and easiest way to separate egg whites from the yolks is to use your hands. Traditionally we were taught to use the shells, but the sharp edges can nick the yolks and puncture them.
Set up two bowls, one for the whites and one for the yolks. Working over one bowl, crack the egg and open it, allowing the whites to fall into the bowl. Pour the yolk and remaining whites into the palm of your hand keeping your fingers slightly separated. Very gently transfer the yolk from one hand to the other until all the whites have fallen through your fingers. Drop the yolk into the second bowl. Repeat with remaining eggs.
- 5 egg whites, at room temperature or submerge whole eggs in warm water for a few minutes
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup sugar pulsed in a food processor to create superfine sugar
- 8 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 225°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper sheets.
- 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 sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat on high until meringue is stiff and glossy, about 1-1/2 minutes more. Continue beating until you can no longer feel any sugar grains in the mixture.
- Remove bowl from the machine and set the whisk attachment aside. Using a large flexible spatula, gently fold in the chocolate chips. Make sure they are evenly distributed throughout the meringue so that each cookie has some chips.
- Using a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, drop dollops of meringue onto the prepared baking sheets 1-inch apart, about 2 tbsp for small cookies, 1/4 cup for larger ones. Leaving room between each one allows the air to circulate. Bake until dry and firm to the touch, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours, spinning sheets front to back and trading top rack to bottom halfway through the baking. Turn off oven and let cool completely on baking sheets, another 2 hours or so.
- For Chocolate Meringue option: Once sugar is completely incorporated into the egg whites, sift 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder over the top and gently fold it in until no streaks remain. *See NOTE. Fold in the chocolate chips, spoon onto parchment lined baking sheet, and bake as described above.
- If you want half vanilla and half chocolate cookies, transfer half of the meringue into a second bowl. Sift 2 tbsp of cocoa powder over the top of the second bowl and fold in until no white streaks remain. Fold in chocolate chips and continue as directed above.
- Yield: between 30 and 5 dozen cookies, depending on size
- When folding in the cocoa powder, make sure you use the classic folding technique. Start at the top of the bowl and cut straight down through the middle with your rubber spatula. As you reach the bottom, spin the spatula sideways, drawing the mixture from the bottom of the bowl to the top. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Continue folding until everything is evenly incorporated and there are no streaks remaining. You need to cut through the dough and turn it in order to find any hidden pockets of cocoa powder and to thoroughly incorporate it into the beaten egg whites. If you don’t use this technique you will wind up with streaky meringues and dense pockets of powder that haven’t been fully integrated into the mixture.
Create a New Tradition Today!
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