Meringues

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Eggs are amazing!  They are full of good nutrition and can be a part of every meal.  Including dessert!  Or course, baked goods use eggs, but did you know that you can make a cookie that is almost entirely eggs?  Meringue cookies are!  Just eggs, sugar and vanilla makes these scrumptious treats. 

Egg whiles are slimy and runny when they are fresh from the shell.  They are composed of proteins and water.  The water makes them runny and the proteins give them their unique qualities.  It’s the proteins in the egg whites that make meringue possible. 

Proteins are very large molecules.  Parts of protein molecules are attracted to water (hydrophyllic) and other parts are not (hydrophobic). In the raw egg, the proteins are folded so that the hydrophobic parts are on the inside and the parts that are attracted to water are on the outside.  When the egg whites are beaten, the folding is disturbed (denatured) and, at the same time, air is beaten into the mixture.  This creates a foam which can be used to make meringues. 

When the foam is heated, the trapped air bubbles expand creating the light and airy cookies that taste so good!  Heat also makes the foam solidify, so the cookies don’t collapse when they cool. 

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Meringues are easy to make with an electric mixer.  Meringues can be made by hand, but it requires a strong arm!  The trickiest part of making meringues is separating the eggs.  It’s important to keep fat of any kind away from the egg whites because fat will interfere with the formation of the foam.  Egg yolks contain fat, so keeping the yolk away from the white is critical.  Fortunately, many inexpensive devices to separate eggs are availble for people who are not comfortable separating eggs by hand (just grab the yolk but make sure to clean your hands well before and after) or by dipping the yolk from one half of the cracked shell to the other and letting the white fall into a bowl. 

 

Meringue Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

3 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
½ cup mini-chocolate chips or finely chopped nuts (optional)

    • Preheat the oven to 250oF
    • Separate the eggs (save the yolks for another use)
    • Combine the egg whites, vanilla and cream of tartar in a bowl.
    • Beat the mixture (use a whisk attachment, if available) until it forms soft peaks.  (The whisk will start to leave lines through the egg whites.)
    • Gradually add the sugar (about a tablespoon at a time)
    • Beat the mixture until it forms stiff peaks (a fairly stable peak forms when the whisk is removed)
    • Use two teaspoons to form the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet, or use a piping bag with a star tip for fancier shapes.  Leave about 1 inch between the cookies.
    • Bake for 50 minutes.  Turn off the oven but leave the cookies in the oven for another 30 minutes.  Remove the trays from the oven and allow the cookies to cool completely on a wire rack.