A phrase I hear consistently about hobbies or a craft of some kind is, “it’s a labor of love…” and that is why we do it. Cooking certainly is a labor of love, but it is also an often insane act of trial and error – especially in a genre (like baking) that is so dependent upon technique and precision. With precision and technique being two of the factors that make or break a recipe, we may fail more than we succeed when learning something new. That said, I’ve never made meringue cookies, and I love the delicate and airy touch to the cookie. Armed with a new hand mixer, a carton of eggs, and a container of cream of tarter, I set forth on my newest baking challenge. (A challenge it was!) Seriously, perfect meringue cookies (while seemingly simple) should be an elimination challenge in shows like Master Chef that feature everyday home cooks like I am. Meringue cookies can trip almost anyone up on a first attempt.
After setting my oven to 225F, I cupped a cracked egg and successfully separated the egg white from the yolk. SCORE! The second yolk broke and ran through my fingers into the bowl. Dammit! Two eggs into the garbage disposal. I started over, and this time, all three egg white were separated perfectly. Yeay me! My excitement was short-lived.
I attached the beaters to my hand mixer, added the 1/8 tsp of cream of tarter and 1/8 tsp of salt, and an 1/8 tsp of freshly extracted vanilla bean seeds to the egg whites and I beat, and beat, and beat, and beat, and… where are my soft peaks? They look slightly peak-light. Maybe I did alright? Trial and error. I had to let myself fail if I were to learn anything, so I kept going. I added lemon zest and a tablespoon of strawberry jam to the mix and slowly added sugar as I beat, and beat, and beat, and… well, you get the picture. While the mixture tasted fabulous, no matter what I did, it didn’t resemble anything remotely whipped or peak-like. I reached for my iPad and headed to google and typed, “why won’t my egg whites peak.” The answer was right there. It seemed so simple. Why didn’t I think of that? I removed the beaters from my hand mixer and added the whisk attachment and started a new batch. Because I hadn’t whisked my egg whites properly the first time, the mixture was never going to thicken – even after adding the sugar. The whisk attachment had to be the answer. It just had to be.
I started over, and this time, my egg whites peaked, and I was ecstatic. I slowly added the sugar, raspberry jam, strawberry jam, and lemon zest. I used a spoon to carefully swirl pats of the mixture onto a foil-lined baking sheet. I did a tiny twist with the spoon at the end of each cookie splot, and popped them in the oven to bake for an hour and a half. I’ll check them an hour through the process. We’ll see. If this works, I’ll try a pastry bag next time with attachments to make prettier cookies.
I just checked them at the one hour mark, and they are getting that delightful outer crisp, and they are nowhere near browned, so that is a good sign. They are a bit flatter than most, but again, it’s all trial and error. I can’t wait to see and taste the results!