For the meringue shells, my favorite filling is lemon curd topped with fresh berries, although feel free to substitute your favorite filling. Since West Virginia tends to be humid in the summer, winter is the best time to make crispy meringues. Still, they are best served within a day as they will become soggy over time.
Darcie Boschee is a freelance food writer. Reach her at bosch...@yahoo.com. For more of her recipes, visit her blog, bakin-n-bacon.typepad.com.
Meringue for Shells or Poaching
Makes 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.
4 large egg whites (about 1/2 cup), at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional, but will result in greater volume)
BEAT, in a large mixing bowl (preferably the bowl of a stand mixer), egg whites with whisk attachment on high speed until they form a dense foam with very small bubbles.
WITH the mixer running, add the sugar gradually over about 30 seconds.
CONTINUE beating at high speed until whites are stiff but still glossy.
For crisp meringue shells: Spoon golf-ball-size dollops of meringue onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Using a large spoon, spread meringues out to about 3 inches in diameter, and use the spoon to create a depression in the center. Bake in a 200° oven until shells lose their sheen and are no longer sticky (between 1 and 2 hours). Turn oven off and leave meringue shells in cooling oven for another hour or so.
The best way to tell if the meringue is fully baked is to make a couple of small "test" meringues alongside the regular ones and take one out when you think they are ready. (You get to eat the test meringues right away, so make more than one.)
For poached meringues: Using a spring-type ice cream scoop, scoop balls of meringue into simmering water. (Alternatively, use two large spoons to make football shapes and drop into water.) Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then flip over and simmer for another minute or two. Meringues will swell in size. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and place in serving dish.
SERVE crisp meringues with lemon curd and berries or your favorite filling. Serve poached meringues on a fruit sauce or crème anglaise (for a cheater's crème anglaise, used melted ice cream). Drizzle with fruit syrup or chocolate syrup if desired.