Meringue cookies are made from a batter that includes sweetened and whipped egg whites. Tiny bubbles are captured in the protein structure created by whipping egg whites into a foam. Once the meringue cookies are baked, the texture sets up and becomes crisp and airy light. Flavor extracts are often added to meringue batter to give cookies a recognizable taste. Colors and toppings set meringue cookie varieties apart and make them more visually appealing.
Raw egg whites that are vigorously whipped with a whisk eventually froth up into a meringue. Egg yolks are separated from the whites and are not generally used in meringue cookies. Cream of tartar is sometimes added to set the meringue more quickly and reduce whisking time. The whipped egg white batter is typically sweetened with confectioner's sugar or honey. Some meringue cookie varieties contain no flour and are gluten-free.
Traditional cookies generally have one or more grain flours, whole eggs, and oil. These ingredients usually make a cookie that is dense and chewy. Egg-white cookies typically rely only on the protein structure in the sweet meringue to form a crisp, light cookie. Meringue batter must be baked right away and cannot be stored in the refrigerator like most raw cookie dough.
Flavors of meringue cookies are often inspired by other popular cookies and pies. Meringue is used to top a wide variety of dessert pies. The ingredients and flavors in these pies are commonly incorporated into meringue cookie batter. Melted chocolate is mixed into and drizzled onto meringue cookies for added flavor. Vanilla, nut, and mint extracts are frequently stirred into the sweetened whipped egg whites in small amounts.
Safely handling raw egg whites requires clean equipment and hands. Egg whites are high in protein and low in acid, which is an ideal environment for bacterial growth. Meringue cookie batter that is contaminated and left at room temperature can cause food-borne illness. Regular and equipment washing with hot water and soap can help to prevent contamination. Meringue cookies should be moved directly to a preheated oven once the batter is ready.
Baking meringue cookies on an ungreased pan can result in sticking and food loss. A thin layer of cooking oils spray, butter, or margarine on the baking pan can encourage browning and cause the cookies to rise without breaking. Leaving the meringue cookies to cool for a couple minutes after they come out of the oven often makes it easier to lift them from the greased pan.