28 October 2007

Meringue Ghosts

Here it is a few days before Halloween and I have scarcely thought about it. I have a pumpkin on my front porch that I got free with a fill up at the gas station but other than that I have not decorated. I did get down the box of fall decorations from the shelf in the garage but until yesterday I hadn't opened it.

Now, suddenly, I am thinking maybe I should do something for the occasion. I am wondering if I have a perfect recipe somewhere, one that is quick and easy, seasonal and yet subtle.

After a little thought I remember something I made years ago - Meringue Ghosts. They were a great treat to make with my children. The recipe has only a few ingredients and involves kitchen tasks my children were eager to help with when they were young - cracking eggs, operating the mixer, using a pastry bag to squeeze ghost shaped dollops of meringue onto parchment paper and then decorating them with chocolate chip eyes. Since the form of a ghost is very forgiving, a great deal of skill and experience is not necessary to come up with a pleasing result.

This year I am on my own in the kitchen and still Meringue Ghosts seem like a good idea. I will have to handle the pastry bag myself but these cookies are easy to make, use simple ingredients, are low in calories and fat and have a wonderful vanilla flavor. I think that baking a batch makes a great way for children of all ages to enjoy the season.

Note: When I went to find the recipe I couldn't locate the one I originally snipped from a magazine so I searched for the recipe on-line. I found it at Diana'sDesserts.com. There they are attributed to the October 2003 issue of Sunset Magazine. I also found some great advice on working with meringue at JoyofBaking.com.

Meringue Ghosts

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Take cold eggs and separate the white from the yolk carefully. (Any trace of egg yolk or grease in the egg whites or on the bowl or the beaters will inhibit the fluffiness of the meringue.) Cover the yolks and return to the refrigerator for another use. Set the whites aside until they warm to room temperature, approximately 30 minutes.

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a deep bowl at high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Continue to beat adding sugar slowly, one tablespoon at a time, until the meringue forms stiff peaks and a little of it rubbed between your fingers no longer feels gritty. Beat in vanilla.

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, dabbing a small bit of meringue between the corners of the parchment and the pan to help the parchment lay flat.

Scoop meringue into a gallon sized Ziploc bag. Seal the bag. Snip a 1/2 inch opening across a lower corner of the bag. Use like a pastry bag to pipe meringue onto the parchment paper in the shape of a ghost approximately 2 inches wide, 3 or 4 inches long, and 2 inches apart. Place two miniature chocolate chips on the shape and press lightly into the meringue to form eyes. Repeat with remaining meringue.

Place ghosts in oven. Bake until meringues turn lightly golden, approximately 1 1/2 hours, turning and switching position of the pans halfway through. Turn oven off and let meringues sit in the closed oven for another hour before removing.

These are great on their own or with a bowl of ice cream or fruit. They might also be nice as a decoration on a cake or pumpkin pie.

Hint: To enhance the vanilla flavor of the meringue I used vanilla sugar that I had on hand. I make vanilla sugar whenever a recipe calls for the seeds from a vanilla bean. After I scrape the seeds into the recipe I am making I seal the leftover outer hull in a storage container covered with several cups of sugar. This infuses the sugar with a wonderful vanilla scent and flavor. After a couple of weeks the sugar can be used in place of regular sugar in any recipe where you would like to boost the vanilla taste.

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