I've never been a huge fan of meringue cookies. I like them, will eat them, but don't crave them - I've always felt they were a little like sweetened styrofoam. This would be a good place to note that I'm not really all that picky, and will happily eat sweetened styrofoam. So when The Boyfriend mentioned them, said he liked them as a kid, and suggested we try them with the chai spice we'd just bought, I was more than happy to oblige.
We (or at least I) went into the process with the idea that it was a trial run. I'd found a few recipes, but hadn't looked around very extensively, and had only found recipes calling for corn starch (and no cream of tartar). Also, the recipe I chose to follow most closely (which I felt was close to what we wanted and would be easy to doctor with the chai spice) called for adding the vanilla extract to the egg whites at the beginning of whipping - something I seriously suspect was our biggest downfall.
Although the meringue held up in the oven and produced a pretty decent cookie, it was too limp and gooey to pipe or dollop, and was a mess to deal with. Though the outcome wasn't very pretty, it was tasty, and I felt like I knew what to do differently.
(I piped half, while The Boyfriend spooned the rest onto a second baking sheet - to his he added chocolate chips, something I never would have thought of in meringue cookies, but definitely an improvement. Note that these were piped with the same star shaped tip as the one at the top of the page, but the meringue was simply too gloppy to hold shape.)
The next morning, I got ambitious and decided to make more, this time using the tweaks we'd thought of. First, I looked up other recipes calling for cream of tartar, and used the amounts given to match the number of egg whites. I kept the corn starch (which helps meringues to bake well, and not turn to slop), and this time decided to make the flavor chocolate. The chai was nice, but I was ready for bigger and better things.
After tossing around some ideas (with myself...) I came up with the following recipe.
Chocolate Meringue Cookies
If you plan on piping these, get your piping bag ready to be filled.
Line 2 (or 3, in my case) baking sheets with parchment paper before you begin.
The number of cookies this makes will depend entirely on the size you make them. I made mine bite-sized, no more than an inch across. I did not count how many cookies it made, because I was eating them before they were even out of the oven.
Preheat oven to 200f
4 large egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 TBSP cocoa powder (or, if you want them to be chai spiced, 1/4-1/2 TBSP chai powder. Or, for espresso, 1/2 TBSP espresso powder - you get the idea)
1 1/2 cups super-fine sugar (this is still granulated, not powdered - I just spun some regular granulated sugar in the food processor/blender a few times)
2 tsp. corn starch
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or almond extract)
In your blender or food processor, pulse granulated sugar until a super-fine but not powdered consistency. Add the cornstarch to the sugar and set aside.
In a large bowl (larger than you think you'll need, egg whites get pretty fluffy) or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt. Beat (stand mixer or hand mixer) until the whites are starting to look fluffy and are on their way to soft peaks.
Add the cocoa powder, and beat to soft peaks. With the beaters still running on medium-low, add the sugar/corn starch very slowly (maybe 1-2 TBSP at a time) until it's all incorporated. Towards the end of adding it all, the mixture should start to get very heavy. Using a hand mixer it was easy to feel an increase in resistance. Keep going until you have nice stiff peaks.
Slow the mixer down to low, and add in the vanilla extract. If you were so inclined as to add any food colorings, now would be the time. Bring the beaters to a stop.
You do want to work quickly here, filling your piping bag and piping (or simply spooning/dolloping) them onto the baking sheets - however, my meringue was so stable it held up to me having to refill my too-small piping bag three times, and frantically scrambling to prepare a third baking sheet, so I wouldn't worry about it too much.
You can pipe/dollop however you want, but I used a 1M star tip and made very small, bite-sized cookies. You can space them pretty close together, leaving as little as 1/2 inch between them. If your meringue is strong, they won't spread out during baking.
I was super-sneaky and added a secret chocolate chip to some of the cookies. To do this, I piped a small glob of meringue, then topped it with a chocolate chip. Then I took the piping bag and piped, as I normally would, over the chocolate chip to cover it.
(Pardon the flash... oh, you could even replace these with small coffee beans, or chocolate covered espresso beans, if you wanted.)
Place your trays (assuming there are two of them - since I had three I had a bit of a juggling situation on my hands) on the two middle racks of the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes before rotating, front to back and top to bottom, then bake for another 45-50 minutes. More than cooking them, your goal is to dry them out. If you want to do a lower temp. for a little longer, that's fine too.
Remove the trays from the oven and allow to cool. They should be crunchy and completely dry at this point - if they aren't, return to the oven for a little more drying.
Once the cookies are cooled, you can eat them as is, or drizzle, dip, or pipe them with chocolate.
(This one has the chocolate chip center - mmm!)
Once they're finished to your satisfaction, it's important (as I discovered after leaving them out on the counter for a while) that they be quickly stored in an airtight container, and kept either in the fridge or a cool dry place. Otherwise, they may get a little gummy/sticky.
I liked these so much more than any store-bought meringue cookies, and VERY much enjoyed making them. All the whipping, and the piping, and the pretties! Plus, the goo got all over my fingers and I got to lick it off. And the beaters. And the bowl. This is probably too much information to share with the world.
They were so simple to make, and so few ingredients, I'll have to add them to my repertoire of recipes to make around the holiday as give-aways. The flavor possibilities are pretty endless, as well - I keep seeing recipes for lemon meringue cookies sandwiched with lemon curd, for tiny bites of lemon-meringue-pie. I'll definitely have to try that one!
Fun, bite sized, tasty clouds of... styrofoam? Not quite. After these, I think I might be changing my tune.