Every year on my birthday growing up, my mother would tell me the story of the day I was born. The tale has dramatic elements—a blizzard, a drunk hitchhiker, a plane that couldn't land in the snow—but my favorite parts are the little details. For example, I loved hearing about Spite and Malice, the card game my teenage aunties played with my mother while she labored, and the two batches of meringues my grandfather, Pop, made to bring to the hospital—one tinted pink, in case in I was a girl, the other blue if I was a boy.
Meringues were one of my favorite cookies growing up, perhaps because of their role in my own genesis tale, but I also loved their crisp shell and chewy interior, the fact that they could be colored to suit the occasion, and the way they baked overnight in an oven that wasn't on, the magic of which tempered my impatience to eat them. But I hadn't eaten a meringue for years until I went to my Tonto's last month for dinner (Tonto is one of the teenage aunties from my birthday story; not the one who sat in the back of the squad car with the drunk hitchhiker—that's Julie). For dessert Tonto served a plate of holiday treats, and among the homemade caramels and Advent Wreath Fudge (another family-tradition dessert) were pretty little meringues. Inspired, I decided to attempt for the first time to make meringues of my own.
Tonto no longer uses Pop's recipe, but because I'm a traditionalist (and in some ways, I think, my grandfather's granddaughter), I tried the version he made on the day I was born, the same ones I ate growing up. They were incredibly easy and as delicious as I remembered, though not as perfectly formed as the ones my mom and aunties used to make. But I'm planning on honing my meringue-making skills this winter (yellow ones when I can't stand the low, gray sky anymore; a batch for the yachtsman, who was out of town the first time I made them and whose favorite color is blue; green when I need a reminder that spring will eventually arrive, etc.) and eventually hope to recreate the shiny little kiss of a cookie I remember.
Pop's Forgotten Cookies
2 egg whites
½ cup sugar [These were pretty sweet; I think you could use a scant half cup and still have a delicious meringue.]
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips [I love chocolate chips, but I think you could go easy here, too, three-quarters of a cup instead of a whole one.]
food coloring (optional)
mint extract (optional)
Heat oven to 400˚F. Beat egg whites until stiff, then gradually add sugar and vanilla. Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon by teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet in oven. Turn off oven. Leave in overnight, or for at least eight hours.
You can use food coloring to change the color of the meringues. You can also substitute the vanilla for mint. [A word of warning: I made two batches, one with vanilla and one with fancy peppermint oil I bought at the fancy natural foods co-op. The minty ones were completely flat (but still good), and later I found out this was because of the peppermint oil, so if you make a mint version, use the crappy mint extract you can buy at the crappy chain grocery store.]