I grew up in a Vietnamese Catholic family so we’d celebrate all the traditional Vietnamese holidays as well as the Catholic ones. Since we got to the U.S. we added American holidays too. Regardless of occasion, there is always a table laden full of festive foods.
Sweets are important part of the routine and for the mid-autumn festival we’d bake moon cakes fitting for gazing at the brightest moon of the years. For Christmas, our family’s tradition was baking and decorating French bûche de Noël yule log cakes. Yes, it’s the delectable part of the French colonial legacy. This week, I’ll be making a yule log and will be posting the recipe for you to use, but before making the cake itself, I make meringues kisses. About a dozen are shaped into mushrooms to decorate the yule log. The rest are left as kisses, and I include them as part of my Christmas spread of sweets. That’s great multitasking.
Don’t be frightened off by meringues as they’re quite easy to prepare. Just have everything ready and read the instructions well. Make sure the mixer and whisk attachment are clean and dry so that the egg whites get the most volume. The best kind of mixer to use is a standing one so that your hands are free to add the various ingredients; but a hand-mixer should be okay.
My meringues this year are flavored with tangerine peel but you can make them plain, use other kinds of zest, ground spices or even cocoa powder (2 3/4 teaspoons is all you need!). You can also pipe the finished meringue into different shapes. They keep for a good week and I’ve read that you can freeze them but they’ve never made it that long in my house.
Makes 3 to 4 dozen
Special equipment: 16-inch pastry bag outfitted with a #6, 7 or 8 plain (round) decorating tip
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons unsifted powdered sugar sifted with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated tangerine peel (avoid the light pith)
1/3 cup (about 2 large eggs) egg whites, at room temperature
1. Position two oven racks in the upper and lower third of the oven and then preheat to 225F. To make transferring the meringue to the pastry bag easy, put the pastry bag with the tip pointing down in a tall glass, peeling back the over-hanging portion of the bag as if you’re folding back the cuff of a sleeve. The bag should sit nicely that way in the glass. Keep the glass near your work place. Line 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper and set aside.
2. You’ll be working swiftly so have all the ingredients in place before whipping up the whites. Put the 1 tablespoon and 1/4 cup of sugar in two (2) separate containers. If you haven’t, sift the powdered and regular sugar into a bowl. Put the peel in a small bowl too. Set each aside.
3. Begin beating the egg whites on medium low. When the surface is frothy with small bubbles, increase the speed to medium and add the 1 tablespoon of sugar in a steady stream. Beat the egg whites for about 1 minute more until soft white peaks form. It’s okay to pause the mixer and check.
Keeping the machine at medium, slowly add the 1/4 cup of sugar in a steady stream. Once all the sugar has been incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high; if your mixer doesn’t have medium-high speed, stay at medium. Continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes longer, until the whites are glossy, white, and thick like sour cream. They will feel heavier; rub a bit between your finger and they should feel smooth, not grainy. Stiff peaks will form when you lift the beaters from the whites.
Add the tangerine peel and beat at medium-high for about 30 seconds to incorporate well; the whites will slightly deflate at first. Aim to beat enough to restore the stiff peaks.
Stop the mixer, detach the whisk and tap it gently against the wall of the bowl to remove excess meringue, letting it fall back down into the bowl. Spring the powdered sugar mixture on top and use a rubber spatula to fold the ingredients together until they are just incorporated. Avoid overmixing or you’ll burst too many of the air bubbles and deflate the meringue.
4. Immediately use the rubber spatula to transfer the meringue to the pastry bag. Gather up the pastry bag. To keep the parchment paper in place as you work, squeeze a bit of meringue in each corner of the baking sheet under the parchment paper.
To pipe the kisses, hold the pastry bag 1/2 inch above the baking sheet at a 90-degree angle. Gently squeeze release the meringue. You can make them as large as you want. I typically aim for 1 1/4 inches wide kisses. When you get the size you want, release pressure from the bag and twist the bag clockwise while lifting it away. A pointy tip will form. The meringue expands just slightly during baking so leave a good 1/4 to 1/2 inch space between each as you work.
(To make mushroom caps, pipe the kisses and then use a wet fingertip to smooth out the tip. Then form slender tall kisses for the stems; hold the pastry bag about 1/4 inch from the baking sheet for the stems. )
5. Bake the meringues for about 1 hour, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. The meringues are done when they are dry and can be lifted from the parchment paper. Test by eating one. It should be dry throughout. If not, keep baking. The low oven temperature doesn’t hurt the meringues. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for 1 week.
To assemble the mushrooms, use a pairing knife tip to bore a small hold in the center of the underside of the cap. Smear a bit of frosting or butter into the hold and insert the stem tip. Store in an airtight container.
Related Recipe: Yule Log Cake