Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, May 2012
I bet five years ago you didn't own a microplane, but you've got one today. We all bought them, and now every recipe calls for a teaspoon of lemon zest added with the vanilla. (Looking at you, Martha!) Lemon is lovely, but can we all agree to take a little break from it? How about freeze dried fruit?
Sounds weird, right? Well, it's definitely less weird than whatever nasty stuff they put in raspberry extract. Trader Joe's sells several kinds, including blueberry, mango, raspberry and strawberry for about $4 per 1.2 oz bag. Whole Foods carries them too, and charges more. (Don't faint.) Either way, it costs about the same as a bag of decent chocolate chips. You can pulverize the stuff in a coffee grinder or food processor and use the powder to flavor anything.
For instance, you can make blueberry meringues that actually taste like blueberries.
There are two ways to go about this.
The Inspector Gadget method:
Paint brush, pastry bag, plain pastry tip, gel-paste food coloring.
And the MacGyver method:
|Gallon zipper-top bags.|
Ingredients3 egg whites
3/4 C sugar
1/8 t cream of tartar (don't worry if you don't have this, it will still work)
1 t vanilla extract
3/4 oz freeze dried fruit (except use only 1/2 oz blueberries), ground to powder in a coffee
grinder or food processor
Gel-paste food coloring (optional)
Preheat your oven to 200 and line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
Put about an inch of water into a pot, and set the pot over a low burner.
Combine the egg whites, sugar, salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of your mixer. Set these over the pot of water. Use your mixer attachment (fewer dishes) to stir every thirty seconds or so. Do not go and check your email, or you will end up with sweet scrambled eggs.
When the sugar is dissolved, and you think the egg whites might just be turning slightly whiter, about three minutes, remove the bowl to the mixer and crank it up.
All the cookbooks refer to beating egg whites to "stiff peaks." This is not stiff peaks. This needs to be beaten another two minutes.
Stiff peaks will look like this. It will not drip off the mixer.
Now add your powdered fruit and vanilla extract.
Go, Go Gadget Girls will want to put a plain tip in a pastry bag and use a clean paintbrush (not one swiped from your daughter's watercolors!) to paint three stripes up from the tip to 2/3 of the way up the bag.
Carefully spoon half the meringue into the pastry bag, so as to minimally disturb the stripes. Sorry to tell you, but you'll have to repeat this with another bag for the second half of the batch.
MacGyver, you can just dump the meringue right into that zipper bag and snip off a corner. You could probably do the stripes, but it won't affect the taste at all. I'd skip it.
Pipe 1-2 inch swirls onto the parchment about 1 1/4 inches apart. Don't worry, properly beaten meringue will not spread.
Note that the first few will have garishly bright stripes, and the last few will be barely pigmented. Let's call it proof of craftsmanship - at least no one will think you bought them!
I wish that baking were less like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story - at least recipes would be more concise. But you will have to decide if you're going to eat these today, or sometime over the next week. Baked for a briefer period, the meringues will be deliciously creamy for twelve hours, before turning to damp rubber. Or you can thoroughly dry them out and keep them for a week. In any case, please don't take these times as absolute measurements! Your oven may be hotter than mine, your egg whites may be smaller, your cookies may be larger - there are a hundred different reasons you could open the oven door and find your meringues underdone. So please use judgment.
To eat today, leave them in the low oven for about an hour and forty-five minutes. You should be able to peel them off the parchment without losing too much of the middle. Cool on the pan.
To eat at leisure, bake for two hours and fifteen minutes, and then turn off the oven and leave them in there with the door shut to cool for at least three hours. Overnight is fine. The cookies should feel hard and dry, and crack when you bite them. If they don't, turn the temperature back up to 175 for an additional fifteen minutes, turn the oven off, and check again in another half an hour.
One final note - you may be wondering how to get the powdered fruit out of your coffee/spice grinder. Wipe it out with a paper towel, and then run two tablespoons of raw rice through it to scrub the fruit out. Repeat with another batch of rice if necessary. During Passover, I had to make a modification.