Remember a few weeks ago when my mom and I pretended I was in elementary school preparing to give homemade edible Valentines to all of my classmates? (Wait, actually...that's not a terrible idea. I'm giving a research presentation on V-day and I bet I could win them over with pink treats). Even though my hand was not steady enough to pipe itty-bitty heart sprinkles and we burned a batch of heart-shaped lollipops, these vanilla heart meringues turned out like sugary bites of love. Homemade love. They’re the perfect way to say “Happy Valentine’s Day”… or they would have been if it curiosity hadn’t gotten the best of the kitties.
After popping a few in my mouth and realizing that nothing and no one could stop me from eating the entire batch over the next 24 hours, I decided the neighbors could definitely use some festive sweets. After all, I'd borrowed a paint brush from them earlier in the day and couldn't very well return it without dessert. OBVIOUSLY. I arranged these pink hearts in precarious pyramids on two pretty plates to drop off next door. Now here’s my fatal mistake: I left them. Perched up on the counter just in eye-sight of two furry four-legged felines patrolling the house for mischief. I'm sure you can see where this is going...
...All across the counter - that's where. Let's be real clear about something: there is a strict "No cats on the counter" policy in the Menanix household. STRICT. The cats are more than privy to the rules of the house...and yet sometimes they just give zero hoots. Like, for example, when we've left them for a long weekend or when the birds are chirping so loudly outside the kitchen window that it's not even fair, the cats apparently rewrite the rulebook. OR when there are plates of pink meringues that most definitely look like cat toys - yup, they fall off the counter when kicked...definitely cat toys - cats are apparently allowed on the counter to retrieve said cat toys. Newsflash naughty kitties: Cats are not allowed on the counter - not ever. And the little pink food dye tint to your water dish gave you away. Caught pink handed.
I probably spent just a little bit too long trying to decide if the fact that the cats had played hockey on the counter with my meringues meant I had to toss them. They're that scrumptious. (For the record, they wound up in the compost bin). These meringues melt in your mouth - smooth pillows perfectly balanced between soft crumbles and light chewy texture. Something so simple has so many notes. If you pipe them in little dollops on the baking sheet, you can make them look much more uniform than my hand-piped hearts, but I'm totally into the handmade vibe.
Meringues are one of my go-to simple desserts. Don't let their baking time dissuade you - think about it, you can pop them in the oven and get to work on the main course. Sometimes it’s a challenge to coordinate an elaborate dinner and dessert in a timely fashion - too many things to juggle. Whether you make them ahead or put the oven to work while dinner's on the stove, these meringues allow you to do both. Simple and sweet and just enough to say three little words to your Valentine: “I love you."
- 2 large egg whites, room temperature
- ½ cup fine baker's sugar (or granulated sugar)
- 1 smidgen of cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon Rodelle's vanilla extract (or other extract flavor of choice - almond? lemon?!)
- Optional: 1 small dab of pink gel food dye (or 1 drop red food coloring)
- Preheat the oven to 190ºF.
- Combine the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a double boiler set over simmer water (or in a medium heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water). Whisk mixture continuously until the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are warm to the touch, about 3-5 minutes.
- Strain the mixture through a fine metal sieve into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
- Whisk on low-speed, gradually increasing to high-speed until soft peaks form (about 5 minutes). Add vanilla extract (or extract of choice) and, if using, food dye, and continue beating on high-speed until stiff peaks form (about 2 minutes).
- Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip (or, as I do, a Ziploc bag with a hole cut in the bottom corner for a pastry tip)
- Pipe 2-inch hearts onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. **Note: I then used a toothpick to adjust the shape of the hearts
- Bake until crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, about 1¼ to 1½ hours (Taste one after 1¼ hours to check whether they're done), and remember: do not open the oven door during the first hour the meringues are baking). After the meringues are done baking, turn the oven off and open the door to let meringues cool slowly in the oven (or eat right away because they're so super yummy you just can't wait!).