When I was young, I made meringues. I remember my mom teaching me how, and then it was something cheap and easy and without a ton of butter that I could make for a sugar fix. Not a quick one, necessarily, as I prefer the kind of meringues that bake at a low temperature for a couple of hours so that the shell gets nice and dry and delicately crispy. In my memory I made them all the time after school while my mom was still at work. I could make them in my sleep, not only because I had that much practice, but also because they were EASY. Sugar, egg whites, vanilla. Maybe some cream of tarter for more stability if you had it and felt the need. And then there were a number of years when a staple of my holiday cookie-giving included the cutest meringue mushrooms, little caps and stems glued together with melted chocolate.
I’m not sure about the first time I heard of macarons, but they just LOOKED intimidating. Perfect little delicate cookies, sandwiched with fancy filling. At one point I heard that there were lots of fancy French “rules” for making them, so I was never that interested in even trying. I’m not a huge fan of long lists of rules.
But either through chance, or possibly based on this inspiration image from the mood board that I put together, macarons were going to be the cookie recipe for the spring issue of Knitcircus. And it turned out that maybe they were intimidating to more than just I, because they didn’t get test baked for photography as early as usual, and it was starting to get down to the wire. But when I started thinking about it, they are really just meringue-based cookies. How could they be that complicated? I am a meringue afficionado! I could do this! So I offered to be the test-baker. And lo and behold, they were easy. So, so easy. The hardest part is the piping bag, and if you don’t care about them looking perfect, I’m sure they would be just as tasty if you just dolloped them on the cookie sheet, instead. We ate most of them without filling, anyway.
So, I cordially invite you to check out Knitcircus next Wednesday, when the Spring 2011 issue goes live, with the recipe for these macarons, which I helped test and added some tips from my meringue baking experience to hopefully help make the process less intimidating for you all. I can’t share the recipe here, of course, but in the meantime, I’ll pass on my basic meringue recipe. It seems silly to share this, because it’s only three ingredients, and you could probably easily find it yourself out on the internets. But it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, which means for quite alot of us, the air is dry, devoid of meringue-killing-humidity, and perfect for meringue making. And hey, they’re low fat!
Simple Meringue Cookies
2 eggs whites, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp cream of tarter (optional)*
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Separate two cold eggs, reserving the yolks for something else, like making ice cream or lemon curd or something delicious and sinful. Put the whites in a medium to large bowl and bring to room temperature. Add the cream of tarter, if using. Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites until foamy. Being adding the sugar 1–2 tbsp at a time, incorporating slowly to allow the sugar crystals to dissolve in the egg. Once all of the sugar is dissolved, add the vanilla, and beat whites to stiff peaks. Drop by large spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Bake for 1 1/2-2 hours. Meringues will have a delicate, crispy outside, and still be somewhat soft in the middle.
*Cream of tarter stabilizes the whipped egg whites, allowing them to whip faster and higher. I’ve made these with and without, and don’t have an opinion one way or the other. Evidently, egg whites that are frozen, or that are aged for 24 hours also whip better. Which means separate them the day before, let them hang out in the fridge, and warm them up a little bit before you whip them. I never think that far ahead, though.