Maniacally Making Meringue

March 31, 2013

As I was beating eggs for the Low-fat Coconut Tres Leches cake I made a couple of weeks ago, I had an insurmountable urge to make meringue cookies. I’d never made them before, but watching the emergence of the foamy, shiny, voluminous mass of egg whites was just so fun that I knew there needed to be more egg white projects. Thus began a two-week process of meringue making – seven batches in all (which REALLY seems excessive in retrospect). The results ranged from wonderfully successful, yet meringue-sweet wafers and cookies, followed by tasty, fairly decently textured, bizarre looking cookies and finally much less sweet but tragically deflated meringue um…disasters? But it was quite a fun process, and as long as you paced your meringue cookie intake, a couple of the recipes I came up with were quite good.

For all of the batches I made, I primarily used erythritol, with a small amount or even no sugar. And since the erythritol is granulated, it seemed to work exactly the same as sugar. As I’ve mentioned before, erythritol is a sugar alcohol, has nearly zero calories, doesn’t promote tooth decay, and is a zero on the glycemic index. It’s more expensive than sugar, but for any application where it works well, I use it.

My first two batches were probably the ones with the best texture. I used a recipe on OurShareOfCrazy as a basis for ratios and procedure (I picked that one because I was fascinated with the colors in the picture.). For my first variation, I decided to make try making chocolate chile flavored cookies. The first time, I added all of the chocolate at once, before I added any of the erythritol. The resulting ‘batter’ was very liquidy. I laughed as I dropped it onto a cookie sheet and it spread, but the end result had the proper texture for meringue, and in a way, I kind of preferred it. Since meringue cookies are so sweet, the thinner shape actually worked really well, because each bite was smaller and thinner. I made a second batch adding the chocolate in gradually after adding the erythritol, and those had the standard meringue cookie shape.

Chocolate Chili Meringue Wafers

Chocolate Chile Meringue Wafers

Meringue cookies have to be one of the easiest things I’ve ever made. There are hardly any ingredients – the basis is egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar. That’s it. Then you add flavorings and perhaps food coloring, then bake them slowly and let them cool and dry out. The only real skill involved is separating the eggs. That is important however – you definitely don’t want any yellow in the whites, because that will interfere with the whites getting nice and airy. Another important thing (which I found out the hard way) is you can’t use those egg whites that come in the cartons all nice and separated for you (and pasteurized to boot). The problem with these is the pasteurization takes them to a temperature where the eggs start to cook, and this prevents them from forming a stable meringue.

Low-Fat/Low-Calorie Meringue Cookie Ingredients

Low-Fat/Low-Calorie Chocolate Chile Meringue Cookie Ingredients

Another thing that is essential to a stable meringue is sugar (or erythritol). It’s a chemical thing (I know now). But since I’d rather experiment than research, I went on the assumption that the erythritol’s granular nature served to break up the egg and add air, and that was really all it did. So it seemed logical to me that if I could find something else of a similar texture, perhaps I could drastically reduce the amount of erythritol used (I was really looking for a way to reduce how sweet the cookies were). So I thought I’d try grinding some freeze-dried fruit into powder (not exactly as sharp and large as sugar granules, but clearly my thought process wasn’t exactly water-tight on this adventure), and using that in place of some of the erythritol. For the pineapple I only used a few tablespoons of sugar, and I added coconut extract to make it piña colada flavored. The resulting product was flat with a completely incorrect texture. (The tray that didn’t burn slightly was tasty, though, so I ate those). With the cranberries, since they are very tart, I did use about half the amount of erythritol of the first two batches. They actually puffed up and remained stable, but the ground cranberry was dense enough that the cookies were just, well, kind of weirdly textured. Those all got eaten, too.

Freeze-Dried Pineapple and Cranberry

Freeze-Dried Pineapple and Cranberry

So what actually happens when you make meringue is that as you beat the eggs, which adds air, tiny bubbles coated in protein are formed. On their own, they wouldn’t remain stable, which is why you add cream of tartar, an acid that encourages the proteins in the bubble coating to bind together. The sugar (erythritol) that you then add acts as another binder, sticking the bubbles together. The reason it’s essential not to have any yolk in the mix is that the yolks contain fat, which interferes with the way the proteins line up, and prohibits them from gaining volume. Which brings us to a really handy tip I read while researching this. If you get a bit of yellow in the egg whites, or a bit of eggshell, instead of fishing it out with your fingers, which naturally have oil on them, use a clean eggshell half. It works remarkably well!

Coconut Lime Meringue

Coconut Lime Meringue

My other successful variations were coconut lime and key lime coconut meringue cookies. Coconut lime because with regular limes, the coconut flavor really stood out. With key limes, the same amount of coconut was less prevalent, so key lime coconut. For the final batch I made, I reduced the erythritol a bit, and although the texture was a bit lighter and broke up more easily, I was pleased with the fact that they weren’t as sweet.

Chocolate Chile Meringue Cookies
makes 18-22

4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2/3 c erythritol (or sugar)*
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cayenne
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa

* Zsweet, which I use, claims to be the same sweetness as sugar. Some erythritol is less sweet than the same amount of sugar, so be sure to check the kind you are using and adjust if necessary – I don’t think extra erythritol will hurt the texture at all.

Preheat oven to 225 degrees (250 at high altitude). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a mixer on medium speed, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar. On medium high speed, beat until firm peaks form (softer peaks at high altitude). For thin wafers, add all cocoa at this point and beat well – don’t add it yet for more traditional cookies. Add erythritol and sugar 1 Tbsp at a time, continuing to beat at medium high speed. Add vanilla and cayenne and beat well. For puffier cookies, now add the cocoa 1 Tbsp at a time and continue to beat.

Drop batter onto baking sheets into 18-24 even blobs. Bake for 45-60 minutes until texture is set. Turn oven off and leave baking sheets in, allowing cookies to cool competely.

Coconut Lime Meringue Cookies
makes 18-22

4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 c erythritol (or sugar)*
2+1/2 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp coconut extract
2 drops green, 2 drops yellow food coloring (optional)

* Zsweet, which I use, claims to be the same sweetness as sugar. Some erythritol is less sweet than the same amount of sugar, so be sure to check the kind you are using and adjust if necessary – I don’t think extra erythritol will hurt the texture at all.

Preheat oven to 225 degrees (250 at high altitude). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a mixer on medium speed, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar. On medium high speed beat until firm peaks form (softer peaks at high altitude). Add erythritol and sugar 1 Tbsp at a time, continuing to beat at medium high speed. Add lime, coconut extract, and food coloring and beat well.

Drop batter onto baking sheets into 18-24 even blobs. Bake for 45-60 minutes until texture is set. Turn oven off and leave baking sheets in, allowing cookies to cool completely.

Key Lime Coconut Meringue Cookies

Key Lime Coconut Meringue Cookies

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