I wanted to make something edible to decorate the tree this year and thought these would be nicely festive.
In preparation, I did a mountain of research about the fine art of meringue-making and here is what I learned…
The average egg white from a 50g+ (medium) egg weighs about 30g (a little over 1oz) and measures about 2 tablespoons. To make firm, crisp French meringue, we want to use a 1:2 ratio of egg white to sugar, but precision isn’t absolutely vital, so if you’re counting egg whites rather than weighing them, go with 4 tablespoons or 1/4 cup of sugar per egg white, or if you’re spooning egg whites, just use twice as many spoonfuls of sugar.
Your egg whites should be at room temperature and the big tip for separating eggs is to use three small bowls when you do it – one to catch the white, one to collect the yolks, one to collect the whites – so if you break one yolk it won’t ruin all your whites.
To paint stripes in a piping bag, take a tall glass, jar or measuring container, sit the tip end of the bag in the bottom of the container, and fold the end of the bag out round the edge. I went for fine stripes, but you can do them as thick as you want, depending on the desired effect. The meringue will only take a very small amount of the gel colouring from the bag as it pipes.
You can make your own superfine (caster) sugar by whizzing granulated white sugar in a food processor.
Your mixing bowl should be metal or glass and everything should be free of water, grease or oil. Meringue hates moisture, so don’t make them on humid or rainy days.
Makes about 48
120g egg whites (from approx. 4 medium eggs)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar, or a pinch of salt
240g (1 cup) superfine (caster) sugar
1/4 tsp white powder food colouring (optional)
gel food colouring of your choice
Preheat oven to 90°C (195°F) and line two large baking sheets with parchment. Fit a piping bag with an open star tip (I used an 11mm or 7/16″ tip) and use a clean, fine paintbrush to paint two or three stripes of gel food colouring down the inside of the bag.
Whisk together the sugar and white powder food colouring, if using.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or hand-held electric mixer, beat the whites until foamy, then add cream of tartar or salt and beat until soft peaks form.
Gradually beat in the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, just beating until combined after each addition.
Once all the sugar has been added, continue beating until the sugar is dissolved (if you rub a little between your fingertips, you shouldn’t feel grains of sugar) and stiff peaks form, 2 – 3 minutes. It should be thick and glossy and a beak should form when the whisk is lifted.
Use a teaspoon to plop a tiny little bit of meringue under the corners of the parchment, to stop it from sliding around on the baking sheets.
Spoon mixture into the piping bag (you will need to do it in 2 batches if you don’t have a very large piping bag) and pipe into 5cm (2″) rings onto sheets. They will spread slightly as they cook, so leave a bit of space between them.
Bake meringues for 1 1/2 hours, swapping and rotating sheets every 30 minutes, until dry and crisp. Turn off the oven, prop the door ajar with the handle of a wooden spoon and leave the meringues in the oven for about three hours longer.
When cool, lift meringues off parchment and use ribbon to tie them to your tree. They should last a couple of weeks if properly dried, although they will soften if your home is humid. And make sure they don’t touch your tree lights!