There are certain wonderful dishes that I reserve for individual holidays, only to be served once a year. You know, the special dishes that the whole family looks forward to throughout the year, and enjoying them during their distinctive, respective holidays makes them taste even better. For my family, these include my famous key lime cheesecake on Shavuot, herb roasted turkey and marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole on Thanksgiving, and meringues on Passover. Meringues, the baked beaten-egg-white-and-sugar confection, are light and versatile and make the perfect dessert for Passover: they require only a few, readily-found ingredients, they do not use matza meal which aids in their lightness and renders them non-gebrokts, and they can be flavored in a variety of ways so that they don’t get boring throughout the week-long holiday.
A beaten egg white can foam to eight times its original volume, which is key to making successful meringues. When combined with sugar both for sweetness and structure, this egg white mixture creates the foundation not only for meringues, but also for such varied desserts as pavlovas, soufflés and angel food cakes.
Technique is critical when making meringues, and the following tips should help you achieve success:
1. Don’t make meringues on a rainy or humid day as the extra moisture in the air can prevent them from drying out and crisping; thus, springtime is usually a great time of year to make them.
2. When separating your eggs, take care to avoid getting even the tiniest bit of yolk into the egg white, as the fat from the yolk interferes with egg foam structure and will ruin the meringue.
3. Let the egg whites sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes or so before beating; this will allow more air to be incorporated into the egg whites.
4. Use a perfectly clean bowl (preferably stainless steel, copper or glass) in which to beat your meringues; any oil or greasy residue on the bowl can ruin the meringue.
5. Add the sugar to the egg whites after they have already been beaten to soft peaks; adding the sugar earlier can prolong whipping time and reduce volume.
6. It is important to dissolve the sugar completely into the stiffly beaten egg whites in order to product an absolutely smooth meringue. Therefore, the sugar must be added a tablespoon at a time and beaten until thoroughly dissolved.
The meringues I make for Passover are known as hard meringues and yield individual cookies (rather than the soft meringue which is swirled onto the top of a pie). The cookies are baked low and slow (low oven temperature, long baking time) and left in the turned off oven until completely dry, as in the case of the Orange Chocolate Meringue Kiss Sandwiches, or baked until just crisp on the outside and still chewy on the inside, as in the case of the Chewy German Chocolate Meringues.