These are gluten-free, fat-free, very cheap to make, and are great if you need something to keep fresh for a long while before a potluck.
You will need an electric mixer. Whipping egg whites by hand is a test of endurance. Even one of the $20 hand-held mixers from Wal-mart will work, even if it takes a little longer than a stand mixer.
4 egg whites
2 cups confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 200 degrees and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or foil.
Beat eggs until they turn white and frothy. Add cream of tartar and vanilla, then add sugar gradually as you beat until it is all incorporated. Beat on high (or gradually up to 8 on a Kitchenaid stand mixer) until stiff peaks form. When you lift the mixer, the resulting point should stay sharp instead of folding over.
Spoon mixture into a pastry bag with a large round or star tip. In a pinch you can cut a corner out of a gallon ziplock and use it as a pastry bag, or even just two spoons to make meringue mounds.
Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours. Switch the sheets and turn them after 1 hour for even baking. After 2 hours, turn off the oven and leave the meringues where they are for another hour to gradually cool. They are more drying out than baking.
If you're in a hurry, you can bake them at 225 for an hour and a half, switching and turning after the first hour. You'll need to watch them carefully for any signs that they are browning on the bottom (best test is the taste test!) at which point you should turn off the oven and let them rest for 30-60 minutes to finish drying.
Store immediately in airtight container.
You can reduce the sugar to 1.5 cups if you increase the cream of tartar to 1/2 tsp, or eliminate the cream of tartar by adding an additional 1/4 cup sugar. Either sugar or tartar is needed to stabilize the whites.
The meringues will not expand any more than they are, so you can set them almost touching each other on the baking sheet if you need the room. I like to make mini-meringues by setting 1" dots very close together. This recipe will fill two baking sheets completely with mini meringues.
You can make meringue "baskets" just like the clay baskets you made as a kid by coiling a long snake of clay. Once they're baked you can serve them filled with something, like fresh berries, custard, or ice cream.
Eggs will separate better cold, but will give you more volume at room temperature. Once you separate the eggs, let the whites sit for 30 minutes to warm and they will whip up higher.
Fresh eggs will give you more stable meringue, 4-5 day old eggs will whip up with more volume (because the fluid is thinner). For this, the stability of fresh eggs is better for handling in the pastry bag.
Play with additives once you have an idea of how the meringue behaves. Try adding 1/4 cup shredded coconut and some almond or coconut extract. Try adding mini chocolate chips and a few tablespoons of cocoa powder. Or maybe a few tablespoons of orange juice. frosting dye added at the soft peak stage will give you colors.
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