Eggs are important. I’ve written about them before, but having recently seen them on Easter and Passover plates alike, I now welcome a renewal of my reflection on them. The symbolism of an egg is powerful, offering meaningful messages about new life, fragility, and much more. Their nutritional provisions are also quite amazing, so it’s really no surprise that eggs get regularly replicated in art, included in religious ceremonies, and breathtakingly decorated. And so it is in honor of eggs that I recently created a simple but delectable treat: peppermint leaf meringues.
On the one hand, meringues seem easy to make, calling for just a few basic ingredients. On the other, they require some precision and a few hours of time at home, but they are worth it. Trial and error has taught me that many meringue recipes are designed for drier climates than mine. After finally mastering perfectly beaten whites, and after staying patient during the hours of drying time that meringues require, it is a real disappointment to open the oven and find sticky little piles of goo instead of the anticipated light, crisp treats. So I finally made a recipe tailored to those of us in more humid areas (which works just as well in drier climates) — a method that yields crisp, little puffs of sweetness and a refreshing garden mint flavor.
Peppermint Leaf Meringues
(Makes 36 small meringues, filling one large cookie sheet)
- ½ cup sugar, at room temperature (If you’re like me and refrigerate your sugar to avoid ants, be sure to let it warm up; cold sugar flattens the whites.)
- 2 large egg whites (1/4 cup), at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (It helps the whites volumize.)
- ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract (It’s potent! This little amount is plenty to subtly highlight the flavor of the mint leaves)
- 1 heaping tablespoon minced peppermint leaves, loosely packed*
- Chocolate chips (optional)
Wash, dry, and finely mince the peppermint leaves; set aside. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium-high until they are foamy with bubbles. Add the cream of tartar and turn up the speed to high. When the whites begin to lose their transparency, slowly sprinkle in half the sugar, keeping mixer on. Add the extract, then sprinkle in the remaining sugar. After another 30 seconds on high, turn off mixer. The batter should be thick, shiny, and opaque white. Gently fold in the peppermint leaves, just until evenly distributed.
Transfer the batter to a pastry bag or plastic bag with a corner cut off. Pipe the batter into small dollops on the parchment paper. (With their sweetness and airy texture, I think of meringues as a candy more than as a cookie, so I keep them small: about the size of a halved walnut shell. If you opt to make them bigger, you’ll need to bake them longer than this recipe suggests.) Be careful not to let the piped dollops touch each other, but don’t worry about keeping them too far apart; they shouldn’t spread much. If desired, top each meringue with a chocolate chip before baking.
Bake for 60-75 minutes**. At this point, meringues should have a matte finish and be a bit cracked. Turn off the oven and leave meringues there for 15 minutes, then open the oven door a few inches and let both the oven and meringues cool to room temperature — about an hour. (I do not suggest leaving the meringues in the oven overnight like some recipes say, let alone any longer than necessary to let them cool.) Making sure they are no longer warm to the touch, store meringues in an airtight container such as a cookie tin, and keep them there whenever they’re not being devoured.
Peppermint leaf meringues are light and little, but they satisfy with sweetness and an unusual, refreshing, natural minty flavor.
Maybe next time… For a more festive looking meringue, if desired, add a few drops of green food coloring when you add the second round of sugar, or adorn them with sprinkles before baking. Just remember to avoid any type of coloring or extract that contains oil (meringue’s structural enemy).
*If you don’t have peppermint leaves, feel free to omit them, and add no more than 1-2 more drops extract. (While the leaves add a mild, organic minty flavor to these treats, the strongest minty essence comes from the extract.)
**If you live in a drier area, 75 minutes might be too long (which will simply result in a toastier-colored meringue from the caramelized sugar). You might try pulling a meringue off a cookie sheet at the 1 hour mark and letting it cool; if it’s dry and not gooey, turn off the oven at this point.