How to Make Perfect Peppermint Meringue Cookies
A baker fesses up to her mistakes so you can head straight to success. A few key techniques are all you need to create dreamy, lighter-than-air treats.
Photos by Olga Ivanova
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I consider myself an experienced baker, but I was a meringue cookie flunky.
No problem, I thought, to test-cook our new Yummly recipe for adorably striped Christmas Peppermint Meringue Swirls. So I blithely beat the egg whites without really remembering how to test for stiff peaks — and the meringues deflated in the oven. More is better, I thought, when striping the pastry bags with food coloring to get that cute candy-cane look. Wrong again; the cookies came out gory instead of swirly. Then there was the shape; holding the piping bag wrong, I got sad droops instead of cheerful kisses.
After this confession you might think meringue cookies are difficult. Now that I've spotted my missteps, though (and clarified the recipe — that's why we test 'em!), I can say that making meringues is both easy and a ton of fun. Freshly baked, they’re a revelation versus store-bought meringues: supremely delicate, with a texture and sweetness that practically dissolve on your tongue. (A bonus: they’re both gluten-free and dairy-free.) They’re a fantastic Christmas cookie to serve at a holiday gathering, and a delightful option for Christmas gifting.
But (note to self). You. Must. Follow. The. Directions. To that end, here are my top ten tips for success.
How to make perfect peppermint meringue cookies
From tools to techniques, here's what you need to know.
1. Assemble your baking equipment. In addition to a mixer and a couple of sheet pans, you’ll need parchment paper, disposable piping bags (16-inch size), and a small paint brush like the finest one from this set. You can find the bags and brush at a craft store like Michael’s or at a cookware store; or order them online.
2. Get the ingredients. Large egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar, vanilla, peppermint extract (not peppermint oil), and red gel food coloring are all you need. The cream of tartar, sold alongside spices in the supermarket, makes the meringue more stable. The gel coloring is more concentrated than regular liquid red food coloring so it makes more defined, colorful lines when you stripe the bags. Find it in the baking aisle, or at any of the places named above.
3. Double-check your oven temp. For snowy, crisp meringue cookies you want the oven at only 200°F; check with an oven thermometer to be sure. (My first batch came out a disappointing tan before I discovered my oven ran hot.)
4. Stripe the piping bags. Dip your fine paint brush into the gel food coloring and draw 4 to 6 lines inside each bag. Set each bag inside a tall glass to keep things tidy while you make the meringue.
5. Fat-free is your friend. A little oil in the mixing bowl or on the whisk, or a glob of egg yolk in with the whites, and the egg whites won’t whip to their full volume, so be sure your tools are clean. When you separate the eggs, remove any stray bits of yolk with a piece of egg shell.
6. Warm egg whites slightly before beating. While we’re talking volume, I discovered my meringues had loads more loft when I let them come fully to room temperature before whipping, rather than beating them cold from the fridge. To speed things up, I put the mixing bowl in a shallow bowl of warm water.
7. Add sugar gradually. Egg whites have an amazing ability to foam and stretch as they’re beaten. Sugar helps them hold their structure, but you have to add it gradually, I found out, for the most stability. Using an electric mixer, start by beating the egg whites with cream of tartar (1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar for 3 egg whites). Once they’re foamy, it's time to begin raining in 1 tablespoon of sugar every 10 seconds or so until you've added the full 3/4 cup sugar. (I geeked out and timed myself using my phone’s stopwatch; worked like a charm.)
8. Beat until stiff peaks form. This is key for the meringues to hold their shape during baking, but how do you know when you’re there? After you’ve beaten in all the sugar, the mixture will be at soft peaks (meaning, when you lift the whisk attachment, the tips of the meringue will flop over a bit). Keep beating on high speed until the whites hold completely straight, shiny peaks when the whisk is lifted, 6 to 8 minutes total time. To check, you may need to remove the bowl and beater from the mixer, tap the meringue off of the whisk, then dip the whisk down into the meringue again.
9. Create the kiss shape. Holding a filled bag straight over and very close to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, apply pressure without moving the bag (trust me, this is counter-intuitive). Keep going to pipe a mound of meringue about 1 1/2 inches wide and 3/4 inch tall; then twist the piping tip up and away to create a "kiss.”
10. Bake until firm and dry; then, leave them there. After 45 minutes at 200°F, the meringues will feel done, but the secret to get them crisp to the center is to turn off the heat and let them stand in the oven another hour.
Once the meringues are cool, you can serve them or stash them in an airtight container up to 1 week. Ready to bake? Here’s the recipe:
Looking for more peppermint cookie recipe ideas? We have loads of options on Yummly, including ones made with peppermint candies and candy canes.