When I bought my copy of Martha Stewart’s Cookies back in September, I spent many nights browsing the book from cover to cover, trying to come up with a game-plan or schedule as to when I was going to do one recipe or the other. I began marking the cookie recipes into groups, one of which was Christmas cookies.
One of the things I like most about this collection of cookies is that every cookie has a photo, thus making every recipe easy to fall in love with. But there’s this one cookie that caught my attention entirely, the Peppermint Meringue Sandwich Cookies. It had Christmas written all over it, with lovely red streaks that stood out against the whiteness of the meringue reminiscent of a candy cane. With the addition of the chocolate ganache sandwiched between the cookies, it was definitely attention-grabbing for a mint-chocolate combination lover like myself.
There was just one teensy problem: I was terrified of beating egg whites.
And by that I mean truly terrified. I can’t explain it to you, I’m simply intimidated by the whole soft peaks-stiff peaks business. So intimidated was I in fact that every recipe I’ve bookmarked that required this step remained that way- merely bookmarked. When I had the idea of making this Christmas Countdown series, I told myself I had to include this recipe. I spent so many months trying to psych myself up in time for Christmas baking.
I watched videos of people making meringues, stared at photos of every step of beating egg whites, and stared at the photo in the book trying to get a good feeling about it. I always try to go into the kitchen with especially good vibes when I’m attempting something for the first time; I find the results are better that way. So December came, then one week… two weeks went past, and I was getting dangerously close to skipping this recipe altogether. If I do say so myself, it was getting a bit ridiculous!
It was so frustrating, this inexplainable fear of something I have never even tried! I must’ve told myself, I want to try making macarons, a million times, and it’s been a year and still no macarons. I was too scared of messing up the egg white beating, magma-flow consistency mumbo jumbo, not to mention wasting almond meal. So I told myself to try making meringue cookies first; that would be a good start right?
On the third week of December one day, I woke up with a jolt and marched right into the kitchen (actually, it was after I brushed my teeth, splashed my face, but yes, I was still in my pajamas), prepared my whisk and mixer, and the next thing I knew I was making meringue. And it was a damn good meringue too. And you know what I realized? It actually wasn’t as difficult as I mindlessly thought! The feeling of triumph was so sweet I couldn’t stop myself from snapping a bazillion photos!
They are just too pretty! And after you ogle and marvel at them and finally put them in your mouth, they simply become too delicious!
Now I have to admit, I messed up on my first try. When I saw the white blob of liquid I came up with, it felt like someone dumped a huge pail of cold water on my head, telling me to wake up and understand that I would never be able to make a proper meringue. Ever! But after I calmed down a bit and tried to analyse where I went wrong, I was fairly sure it wasn’t in the egg beating part. I had peaks, people! The egg white-sugar mixture was actually looking good! I’m not sure if it was because my egg whites weren’t stiff enough, or I just added too much peppermint extract into the bowl, but my mixture turned from thick to liquid during this step. No matter how hard or how long I mixed, it wouldn’t go back to holding peaks, so there was nothing else to do but toss it out and try again.
So I tried again with fresh eggs. And half the amount of extract too. And it came out perfectly, as you can see!
The meringues are crisp on the outside with an incredibly marshmallow-like chewiness inside. And of course, mint and chocolate are always such a great combination! I brought the sandwiched meringues to a party the other night and I was so
relieved glad when people came back for seconds!
Just so you know:
- When is the best time to make this recipe? I think this pretty much screams Christmas. I’m planning on making these meringues next year with some other cookies to give as gifts to my relatives. Just make sure you don’t make these when you’re rushing. It takes some time.
- Anything special we should know about before attempting this recipe? You can see my tips and reminders for whipping egg whites below. I thought adjusting the extract did not affect the outcome much, because I used pure peppermint extract as suggested in the recipe and I got a very good kick of it when I had a piece. I added a little bit of extract to the chocolate too for good measure, but it wasn’t necessary. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the chocolate ganache takes some time to set. I got so impatient I popped my ganache in the freezer to speed things up (but only for 5 minutes because I was too excited). I decided to just spoon my ganache onto my meringue instead of waiting for it to harden to a pipe-able consistency, so my chocolate filling is very thin, ran down the sides of my meringue (bad idea!) and I had leftovers. If you’re patient enough, this is how your cookies should look with the thickly-piped ganache. It’s much prettier, so I’ll definitely let the ganache harden when I make this again. I actually dipped half my meringues in chocolate for chocolate bottomed-meringues, sandwiched half of them, then left them all standing between the metal bars of my baking rack to set.
- Would I change anything from this recipe? I halved the amount of extract I poured into the egg whites because the first time, I used half a teaspoon as stated in the recipe and got liquid egg whites. It might just be that I mixed in the extract while my egg whites were still at the medium stiff peak stage. I’ll definitely have to experiment on this further to find out for sure. Other than that, Martha Stewart’s Cookies has been on a winning streak for me!
I have to admit, all the video-watching and photo-staring I did to prepare myself for this definitely helped. What did not help was how some of the warnings and precautionary measures that some people were giving were phrased. I understand these are important to know, but saying that you’re not supposed to touch the whisk because the oil you have on your skin will inhibit the eggs from forming any sort of peaks seems a little too much! I actually separated my eggs using my hands, letting the whites fall down into the bowl through my fingers. I also used my hands to attach my whisk, and my meringue turned out fine anyway.
That said, here are some important but simple tips that you generally have to remember and apply when whipping egg whites:
- Make sure your bowl and whisk are absolutely spotless, as in no droplets of water or residues of oil or anything from previous recipes. In short, clean and wipe your equipment thoroughly before you begin. If you want to be really certain you can clean your equipment with something acidic, like vinegar or lemon. I used regular soap and water, and then dried my bowl and whisk about three times with a fresh clean kitchen towel just to be sure.
- Be careful when separating your eggs. You have to make sure you don’t get any yolk or shells in your egg whites. I like to separate my eggs over three bowls,one of which usually being my mixer bowl. The first bowl is for catching the egg whites, this is for in case I accidentally break a yolk. The second bowl is for the egg yolks. I break the eggs one at a time and check first. If my egg white is clear, I dump it into the mixer bowl then break my next egg. If in case you do get a drop of yolk into the whites, scoop it out with a dry egg shell. If it’s a shell that drops into your egg white, use an egg shell as well. Do not use your fingers because it’s more difficult to get things out this way, and at the risk of “the oil from your skin inhibiting the full whipping potential of your egg whites”, just use the darn egg shell.
- The egg whites should be at room temperature.
Makes about 5 dozen cookies, or 30 sandwich cookies
- 3 large egg whites
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
- Red gel-paste food coloring
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 6 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1. Preheat oven to 175°F (80°C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; securing corners with masking tape. Fit a pastry bag with a small open-star tip (such as Ateco #22). Set aside.
- 2. Put egg whites and sugar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir gently until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch, 2 to 3 minutes.
- 3. Transfer bowl to an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.* Add in peppermint extract and mix about a minute or two more.
- 4. Using a small paintbrush, paint 2 or 3 stripes of red food coloring inside the pastry bag. Fill bag with 1 to 2 cups meringue. Pipe small (3/4-inch high) star shapes onto prepared baking sheets, spacing them about half an inch away from each other as they will puff up a little bit. Refill bag as necessary, adding food coloring each time.**
- 5. Bake cookies until crisp but not brown, about 1 hour 40 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.
- 6. Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until just simmering. Pour over chocolate in a small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth, about 5 minutes.
- 7. Let ganache cool at room temperature, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes, until thick enough to hold its shape, about 45 minutes to an hour. (If ganache sets before using, reheat in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; repeat the cooling process.)
- 8. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a small plain round tip (such as Ateco #5) with ganache. Pipe a small amount onto centre of the flat side of 1 meringue. Sandwich with another and let the chocolate spread. Repeat with remaining ganache and meringues.***
- 9. Stand between the bars of wire racks; let set 30 minutes.
- To store: You can store meringues in an airtight container in a cool, dry place (though not in the freezer or refrigerator), for up to one week. Any humidity or moisture will soften the meringue. The meringues are best on the same day they are made, and while they hold their shape and flavour the following days, they become really fragile and practically begin melting in your mouth when you pop them in.
- * I forgot to time how long it took for my egg whites to turn stiff, but I do know that on Speed 8 of the Kitchen-Aide mixer, I was able to make myself a cup of coffee and toast in a leisurely manner before the egg whites formed medium peaks. And then it took a little more time before my mixture held stiff peaks.
- ** For uniformly darkly red-swirled meringues, fill pastry bag with about a cup at a time of egg whites, repainting the pastry bag before filling again.
- *** Instead of sandwiching all, I dipped some to make chocolate-bottomed peppermint meringues. Simply stand them upside down between the bars of the cooling racks to set the chocolate.
Christmas is so close I can almost touch it! If you’re still having a little trouble getting into the Christmas spirit at this point, I think these cookies will definitely help!
P.S. When I become really practiced at making meringues, I think I’ll do a how-to post for whipping egg whites. Now that I’ve gotten out of this shell of fear with the help of other food bloggers and sites, I would like to pay it forward. 🙂