Cream and Crunch Meringues

According to the stylist who “did” my colors, I’m “a winter.” That classification gives me the fashion go-ahead to wear black — thank goodness — as well as purple, my favorite color, plus electric blue, red and pink. However, I am not a pink person. Baby colors are not for me. I don’t like stuff that’s all girly-girly.

Except on Valentine’s Day.

When the holiday rolls around, I’m all hearts and flowers, baby’s breath and pink. Got ruffles and doilies and lace, pretty berries and whipped cream, sweetness and light? Send ’em my way.

So here’s what I’m sending you this romantic 14th: pink puffs of meringue, pink clouds of whipped cream and bright red berries. You don’t get girlier than that, and you don’t get more delicious, either. The bonus: The puffs are fun to make.

Meringues are one of the miracles of the kitchen. Egg whites and sugar, low heat and time yield crunch and a base for just about anything you can imagine. For Valentine’s Day, I’ve kept it simple: a nest of pastel-pink meringue filled with a dab of red jam and lots of pink whipped cream topped with berries. It’s dreamy, it’s romantic, and the meringue and cream are great foils for each other. One’s velvety, the other’s crackly; one’s dry, the other’s rich. They’re both sweet. The berries are tart, and the puffs are beautiful.

If you’re new to meringue, welcome to its magical world and its few simple rules:

To get the best rise from the egg whites, they must be at room temperature. If your whites are cold, put them in a bowl, put the bowl in a larger bowl filled with hot tap water and let them sit for a few minutes; stir occasionally.

Even the slightest bit of fat, including a speck of egg yolk, can impede egg whites’ rise to glory. Make sure that your bowl and beater are impeccably clean and dry.

Whip the whites until they are opaque and start to thicken, then begin adding the sugar only one spoonful at a time. Beat until that bit of sugar is fully incorporated before adding the next spoonful. It should take you at least five minutes (yep, five full minutes) to beat in all the sugar. Once it’s in, you’ll have a bowl full of snow-white, glossy marshmallow fluff. Pull out the beater, and it will leave beautiful peaks in its wake.

You’re making individual puffs here, so scoop the whites over-generously with a spoon or a large cookie scoop onto lined baking sheets. If you want smooth-looking puffs, rinse your scoop with cold water, shaking out the excess every few puffs’ worth.

Use a soup spoon to make the indents in each puff: Wet this spoon as well, shaking off the water and using the spoon’s underside to smooth the inside of each hollow.

Bake the meringue puffs in a preheated 250-degree oven. You’re drying these more than baking them, and although they might color just a smidge, color isn’t your aim: Crispness is. Don’t open the oven while the meringues bake!

Once your timer goes off, turn off the oven, open its door just a crack, prop it open with a wooden spoon or whatever, and then forget about your darlings for at least two hours (or for as long as overnight). That will let out whatever moisture has built up in the oven and allow the meringues to finish drying.

It’s the drying that makes meringues meringue-y, so if your kitchen is humid, turn on the air conditioning or wait for a drier day.

After you’ve filled the puffs’ hollows with whipped cream, you can refrigerate them for a few hours. The meringue will lose its snap but none of its loveliness. Add the berries just before serving.

And while we’re going pink and girlie, why not do it up right: Rosé champagne is the perfect sip-along.

Photograph by Deb Lindsey. This story originally appeared in my Everyday Dorie column in the Washington Post.

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Cream and Crunch Meringues with Berries and Cream

10 to 12 servings

MAKE AHEAD: The meringue puffs need to dry in the oven for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. The puffs can be stored at room temperature (uncovered, in low humidity) for up to 4 days.

Domino brand confectioners’ sugar is gluten-free.

  • For the puffs
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, such as Domino brand (see above)
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar (may substitute 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar)
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • Red food coloring (optional)
  • For filling and finishing
  • 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (see above)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
  • Red food coloring (optional)
  • About 3 tablespoons red jam (optional)
  • 6 ounces fresh raspberries
  • Mint leaves, for garnish (optional)

For the puffs: Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 250 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Have a tablespoon and a bowl of cold water nearby.

Push the tablespoon of granulated sugar and all the confectioners’ sugar through a strainer (to sift it) into a small bowl.

Combine the egg whites, vinegar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-high speed for several minutes, until the whites thicken and hold soft peaks. Gradually add the
3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each spoonful goes in. Once you’ve added all of it, beat for 2 minutes more. Switch to a spatula and fold in the reserved sugar mixture.

If you’d like to color the meringue, put a heaping spoonful of the meringue in a separate small bowl and add a few drops of color, stirring to blend, and then fold the colored meringue into the large amount of white meringue. If it’s streaky, leave it; for a darker color, repeat this process.

Scoop or spoon 5 or 6 balls of meringue onto each baking sheet. (I overfill a 3-tablespoon cookie scoop to portion out the sticky mixture.) Make sure to leave about 2 inches between each mound.

Dip the tablespoon into the cold water, shake off the excess and use the rounded bottom of the spoon to make a small indent in the meringue. Working with the spoon perpendicular to the meringue and gently turning the spoon, enlarge the indent; this will create a “nest” for the cream.

Bake (upper and lower racks) without opening the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The indentations will puff and will probably crack; that’s okay. Turn off the oven and use a wooden spoon to prop open its door (partially). Leave the meringues in the oven for 2 hours or up to overnight.

To fill and finish the puffs: Beat the heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer on low, then medium-high speed for several minutes, until soft peaks form. Add the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time and then the vanilla extract, if using. Add the food coloring, if using, a drop at a time. Finish beating the cream until it’s firm enough to hold its shape.

If you’d like, put a dab of jam in the base of each nest. Scoop or spoon whipped cream into the hollow and in a mound on top of the puff. Finish by pressing raspberries into the cream. Garnish some berries with mint leaves, if using.

Serve right away, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours. Filled and chilled, the meringues soften; it’s inevitable and even nice.