Thursday, January 22, 2009

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try again

If I may, I'd like to tell you about my most recent cooking adventure via haiku.

egg whites in the bowl
mixer on high but no froth
no meringues tonight

once again I try
phone mother for help this time
flat meringues again

attempt three with friend
mix mix mix but no meringue
sadness in two hearts

determined this time
measure twice and beat on high
blissful fluff reward

Please forgive me for waxing poetic, but my meringue-based trials and tribulations have shaken me to the core. Never has a single dish foiled me three times before finally revealing its secrets. In fact, the pursuit of the perfect meringue has awoken in me a tenacity I haven't experienced since I was 10 and committed to learning how to ride my bike with no hands.

After three wildly unsuccessful attempts at making meringues (see attempt #2 here), this simple cookie had come to represent in my mind all that was unattainable in the world. Tantalus had his low-hanging fruit, Cubs fans had their World Series, and I had my meringues.

But don't worry, this story does have a happy ending. Last night, armed with nothing but a deflated kitchen-ego and a wild-eyed sense of purpose, I tried making meringues for the forth time. I've never followed a recipe so meticulously before in my life. And 2 hours later, I was holding my first batch of freshly baked, albeit slightly overcooked, meringue cookies.

If you want to learn from my mistakes, please feel free to glance at the recipe below. After three unsuccessful attempts, I now have a pretty good sense of what seemingly insignificant missteps will unquestionably thwart you, as they did me, in your pursuit of the perfect meringue.

If at first you don't succeed,
"Chai, Chai Again Meringues"

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoon cornstarch
4 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Step one. Preheat oven to 300 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Step two. Sift together powdered sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cornstarch and set aside.

Step three. In a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pot of hot water, whisk together egg whites and granulated sugar until mixture is warm and sugar has dissolved. BE CAREFUL not to let the slightest bit of fat get into the mixture. As I learned the hard way, a smidgen of oil, butter, or yolk will prevent your egg whites from ever fluffing up. Additionally, BE CAREFUL not to overheat the mixture as you do not want the eggs to cook and congeal. You simply want the egg whites to be slightly warm, which does not take long at all.

Step four.
Remove from heat, add cream of tartar and salt and beat with electric mixer until egg whites hold stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. BE CAREFUL not to over-beat the mixture, as this will deflate your meringues faster that no body's business. Add vinegar and mix just until incorporated.

Step five. Gently fold in reserved powdered sugar mixture. BE CAREFUL not to dump the sugar in and over-stir. This too will deflate your meringues. Instead, try sifting in the mixture or sprinkling it through a strainer.

Step six. Drop large tablespoonfuls onto the parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 30 - 45 minutes. BE CAREFUL not to under-cook your meringues. You will know that they are done when you can lift them off the parchment sheet without ripping off the bottom of the meringue.

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Adriana Willsie and Kylie Springman ©2009