Although a beautiful box of chocolates or a dinner at a nice restaurant are great Valentine’s Day presents, nothing beats the time and care that goes into making something from scratch. Everyone especially enjoys homemade cookies, and for Valentine’s Day meringues are a perfect choice. They are easy to make, requiring only four basic ingredients and very little prep time. Although you can use a teaspoon to put dollops of the meringue batter on a cookie sheet to bake if you have a pastry bag and a star tip the results are stunning. A quart-sized plastic bag with a corner cut off also works well to pipe out little puffs of meringue.
You can add flavor and colors to make the meringues even more special. I recently made a batch that I divided into three parts, flavoring one with grated lemon peel, another with chocolate, and a third with crushed dehydrated strawberries. It only takes a little to add some flavor to the cookies.
For color variations I paint a stripe of gel food coloring inside the pastry bag before adding the meringue. This makes a beautiful striated design as you pipe out the meringues. Usually I use a single color stripe to identify the flavor of the meringue but, if you happen to have a unicorn-obsessed grandchild as I do, you might want to add a rainbow of stripes!
For a more adult-version of meringues use some of your sweetheart’s favorite bourbon instead of vanilla extract to flavor the cookies. Pipe the meringue into donut shapes and fill with fresh berries.
It’s important to have your eggs at room temperature, to make sure that there is absolutely no trace of egg yolk in your whites, and to whip the eggs in a bowl that has no trace of grease. Any yolk or grease would inhibit the egg whites from whipping up properly. It’s best to use a glass, metal or copper bowl to whip the egg whites as plastic bowls often retain a little grease. For the best results, let your eggs warm up to room temperature for at least an hour.
3 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Into a small bowl, separate your eggs one at a time before placing each egg white into a large mixing bowl. Save the yolks for another use.
Sprinkle the cream of tartar over the whites and begin beating the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form.
Add the sugar – just a tablespoon at a time – carefully sprinkling each tablespoon over the beaten egg whites. You don’t want to deflate the air in the egg whites by dumping the sugar on too heavily or quickly. After each addition, continue whipping the eggs to incorporate the sugar before adding the next tablespoon. Continue beating on high speed until the egg whites are glossy and hold firm peaks.
Before you add the vanilla extract, rub a pinch of meringue between your fingers. If it feels gritty, continue beating to dissolve the rest of the sugar. The meringue should be silky smooth and very glossy.
Sprinkle in the vanilla extract and beat for an additional 30 seconds.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Carefully spoon the meringues onto the baking sheet, or use the spoon to fill a pastry bag. Gently pipe meringue into 1-inch cookies, placed a half-inch apart. You don’t want to squeeze the pastry bag too tightly or you will compress some of the air out of the meringue batter.
Place your meringues in the oven and bake at 200 degrees for 1 ½ hours. It might seem like a very long time to bake cookies but long and slow is the best approach for making meringues as the low temperature helps them to slowly dry out into light, airy delights!
When done, let the cookies cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes.