This had a few drawbacks. Sour-ish milk at breakfast, Monday morning. Off coffee, all last week. A week given over to researching/ordering/draining/disposing/re-filling. Me, carrying an armful of raw meat to the basement, in my pajamas, before 7 a.m.
(It was dying a slow death, as it turns out. It just didn't become clear it had flat-lined until Tuesday. It also turns out that if Mr. Meat Day is home sick on a Monday, I should probably postpone my weekly shop. As it was, we went together, and as a result, wound up with chicken, pork, and beef. Two kinds of beef. The day before said fridge kicked the can. Thank goodness there was enough residual cool to last the night. Thank goodness for basement chest freezers left behind by former occupants.)
However, as with everything, our freezer's demise had its upsides. A dramatic uptick in coffee quality, by Friday. Frozen assets, fit for a king. A detour, while appliance scouting, to fetch bamboo poles and blue spray paint. (For this year's bean teepee! T'will be blue, can you imagine? I couldn't. Until I interviewed Jennifer Bartley. Brilliant.)
An abundance of eggs to use up, ASAP.
Eggs, of course, keep quite alright at room temperature, for a few days, anyway. Still, I was keen to cook up what we had, after their stay in our oversized faux-Coleman.
There was a triple-batch of crêpes for dinner, Wednesday night. Scrambled eggs, Thursday. Fried eggs for lunch. Two loaves of yolk-rich challah, rising as I type. And to use up the other half, bittersweet meringues.
I'd considered sharing the other half of Montréal, anyway, the half captured by my trusty old Nikon D70. Because for all that slim brick's lovely convenience, I'm a detail sort, in heart and mind. I admire particularity. The granular outtake. The narrow wedge of a moment, the defining pinprick. "[A] corner where the crust shattered", as Tara recently, memorably, said. As true of life as of pie, I think.
So when the refrigerator gave notice and the egg whites multiplied, I took it as a sign that we ought to talk meringues. Besides, we were due something other than salad.
I've written about meringues before. Everything I said then, still stands: their incessant smack of sweet, my decades-long avoidance, their ridiculous ease, my conversion story. Their now-permanent place in our cookie jar line-up.
At the time, I was talking mini-pavlovas, plain meringues plus soft cream plus ripe summer fruit. I maintain this is meringues' highest and best calling. I also maintain others beg to differ.
In the eyes of my kiddos, there's little question that meringue means chocolate, like Montréal means chocolatine. (You may sense a theme here. You would be spot-on.) Chocolate meringues, as we colloquially call them, fill our jar fairly regularly, though not for long. In addition to all the ordinary meringue virtues—fine shattery bite, faint caramelly edge, virtual absence of fat, shelf-life of forever, and, by definition, gluten-free—chocolate meringues bring something else to the table.
Yup, chocolate. Smartypants. But hold up a minute.
What makes these work, to my taste, anyway, is the bittersweet that comes before. At the palest, I'll put in a dark 70%, a standard 3.5 ounce grocery store Lindt or Ghiradelli. I've used an 85%, and adored it. But my favorite? Unsweetened. Zero sugar. Top notch.
Here's why: meringues are by nature a single-note sweet, an essay on sugar, in various shades of pale. This is what makes them so suitable for tart fruit. And why they need chocolate the color of midnight. Straight-up, plain meringues hit you over the head like snow tumbling from Montréal rooftops in January. But chocolate, chopped small, barely sweetened or not at all, mediates the impact, cushions the blow. Every bite is a blend of sugared crunch and dark shard, the two meeting and melting on the tongue. Those baritone black flecks are the legs that, in my book, let meringues stand alone, without fruit, with respect.
Also, it makes them look like dalmations. Not the main point. But not a moot one.
(I realize, looking up, I've implied a connection between dirt and meringues. Unintentional, that.
There is an abundance of sandboxes because they're a big part of any trip we take, and one of my greatest learnings as a parent. When traveling with young children, seek out a city's parks, as assiduosly as you would their fine dining and art. Dirt-digging. Balancing. Scrambling, climbing, running, jumping. Museums and four-star restaurants tend to frown on these things. Kids, in my experience, tend to frown without them.
As to the texture of an overnight meringue, it's really rather more like that Montréal sky: impossibly light, like a cloud, like air, and crisp as Spring, when Spring's having a good day.)
Which brings me around to my final point, and my first one: meringues are harmonizers. The whole bitter/sweet thing, yes, but beyond that, this: they turn problems into solutions. I'm speaking of extra egg whites, of course. This is a small thing, as an egg white's a small thing, and not a particularly appealing one, at that. Crack an egg, use the yolk, and you find yourself faced with an odd wobbly lump of transluscent glop. It is not much to look at. It slips furtively down the drain. I know. I've done it. Maybe you have, too.
But it's been years, and these here are the reason: meringues make good on this otherwise-orphan. When eggs can be had for a dollar a dozen, it may seem a silly economy. It is not. It is pause and rememberance of the egg's entireity, of the odd couple it is, of its bifurcated magic.
It's also so easy, it's embarassing. Egg whites freeze brilliantly, so there's no rush; a Bonne Maman jar holds a dozen frozen whites, easy. Accumulate as needed, de-frost as convenient, bearing in mind 1 white equals 2 Tablespoons.
Bear in mind, also, that meringues are pure ratio, 1 egg white : 1/4 cup sugar. 3 egg whites? 3/4 cup sugar. 4 whites? 1 cup. Or in my case, last week, 6 whites, 1.5 cups. (Which, for the record, yielded some 6 dozen cookies). That is the ratio. That is the recipe. You've just memorized it, without even trying.
But all this is process, pragmatics, nonsense. You don't make a cookie because a fridge curled up its toes, or because its low-fat, or to honor an egg. Or I don't, anyway. In the end, only the other half, the "do I want another?" question matters. You'll have to answer that one for yourself. As for me, my answer follows.
Overnight Bittersweet Meringues
Adapted from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything
Yield: 3 dozen meringues
Much ink has been spilled about the tempermentality of meringues, warnings about vinegar-wiped bowls, wary words about under- and over-whipping. After dozens and dozens of haphazard, careless batches, my take on these cautions is: Piffle. Barring a great plonk of yolk in your bowl, meringues are among the most forgiving cookies I know. Please note: these rest overnight in the oven.
3 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 3.5 oz. bar extra bittersweet chocolate, 70%, 85%, 90% or unsweetened
Preheat oven to 225° degrees.
Chop chocolate bar with a chef's knife into slender shards, somewhere between slivers and shavings. This is quick work, as the bars are thin and easy.
In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg whites, beginning on low and increasing to medium, until soft peaks form, 2-3 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high, and gradually add sugar, until roughly tripled in volume, shiny, opaque, and able to hold firm peaks, 2-4 minutes more. Add slivered chocolate, and beat briefly, just to combine.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Using two teaspoons (the sort for eating, with a shallow bowl, not measuring), scoop small heaps of meringue (a shy 1") onto lined baking tray, a half-inch or so apart. Meringues don't spread. This is a great kid job, as meringue makes great abstract shapes, all spikes and peaks. Eclectic is fine, so long as size is fairly consistent, for even cooking.
Bake 1 1/4 hours, or until meringues are somewhere between dull white and buff, firm to the touch, and crisp throughout. (Break one in half to check.) Turn off oven, and leave them there to crisp, all afternoon or overnight, if you like a palest caramel color and flavor (I do). Or, if you prefer something closer to white, remove after an hour. Either way, cool completely, then store airtight